He threw his mouthguard to the ground in disgust, gave Springbok giant Vincent Koch the eyeball and came up with a huge play to force Quade Cooper’s dramatic penalty winner last Sunday. And Nic White will get his reward for a brilliant, niggly display with the No.9 jersey when Dave Rennie names his team Thursday for Saturday’s match two.
White came on at halftime on the Gold Coast after Tate McDermott injured his shin but the young Queenslander was relegated to the bench in the team named Thursday.
Just as Rennie opted for Cooper’s experience over Noah Lolesio from the start of last week’s game, he is leaning into more experience with White demonstrating how big an impact his combativeness could have.
He was on for just 11 minutes when Willie Le Roux’s deliberate knock on from a failed intercept sent him into a rage, hurling his mouthguard to the turf.
“He gets bloody angry, which is really funny to watch,” former Wallabies teammate and 110-Test No.9 Will Genia told The Roar.
“I’ve seen it playing against him and I’ve seen it being his teammate, at trainings and in games.
“That’s what makes his so good and the player that he is. He was very, very good last week.
“In my opinion, bringing Whitey on was very much a contributing factor to them winning not just because of the penalty that he gets at the end but just the way he played, his decision making, his control and his calmness.”
White, who is 31 – nine years older than McDermott and two younger than Cooper – has spent a lot of his Wallabies career scrapping for a place in the limelight. He was stuck behind Genia, and then Nick Phipps but started all six of his Tests last season.
Then, just before the France series, he was ruled out with a knee injury, allowing McDermott to grab the jersey and momentum.
“He was excellent in the second half and you can see the difference between someone like him and Tate,” Genia said.
“I love Tate. He’s an instinctive, brilliant running halfback, his kicking game’s come such a long way and I thought he was good again.
“Whitey is very different in that he is still a good runner of the ball, he likes to take the fringes but it’s very much about gain management and being a leader in that space.
“His kick for the 50/22, his communication again, much like Quade, means he probably sees the game a little bit differently.
“Tate is only 22 and he’ll get to that level and once he does he’ll be great to watch. But it’s good that they’ve got that contrast of players.”
Whites burning intensity was obvious when he entered the contest last week – a stong desire to make up for lost time spent on the bench.
“You’re playing for your country so whatever opportunity you get, you love, you cherish,” said Genia.
“Just because you’re sitting on the bench, you don’t mope. You’re just as excited to get on the field and you want to make an impact that will make a difference.
“He’s that type of guy. For a long time, he missed opportunities. I was there for a long time. Nick Phipps was there for a long time.
“I remember when Whitey first came to the Wallaby group we played Tests aganst Scotland and Wales and I played 80 minutes of all of those games.
“I think he still feels like he wants to make the most of his chances – because he didn’t have it for so long, because it’s hard being in the squad and not playing. You can just see he has this hunger and desire and he’s such a competitor.”
Cooper’s performance has led to conversations around premium age for players, and if he has the ability to stay at a high level through to the next World Cup. It’s an unhealthy obession, as Genia puts it, with “shiny new things.”
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber was asked about Cooper during his Wednesday night press conference to announce his squad for Saturday.
“What suprised me about Quade? Nothing.” said Nienaber. “He’s a quality player and I always thought he was.
“I was coaching the Stormers back in 2011 when he was running riot with Queensland. I still see the same traits that I saw back then in him.
“It’s always nice as a defence coach to measure yourself against the quality of somebody like Quade. Just from what I’m seeing – and I’m not saying he was immature in the past, not at all – I see a mature game.
“He managed the game well and I think that’s why Dave selected him, because of his experience.”
On Sunday Rennie had joked that Cooper – 35 at the next World Cup – would be considered a youngster on a South African team.
“When you get a new player in they can play as well as they want in club rugby but it’s not Test match rugby,” said Nienaber.
“Test rugby is different and it’s something you grow into. You make mistakes, you get used to the pace of the game and the pressure only after a few Test matches and Quade has been through most of it.
“In terms of your squad it’s nice to have experience on one side but also to get that energy and playfulness from the youth.”
Rennie’s youth policy from the start of the Bledisloe series could be steadily heading the other way.
James O’Connor is also lurking and on Wednesday two former Wallabies players, Elton Flatley and Chris Latham, gave him the seal of approval to replace Tom Banks at No.15.
“There’s a spot potentially available there,” said Flatley.
“If he’s fit he’s got that experience and know-how to do a job in the 15 jersey.”
O’Connor spent the early stages of his Wallabies career at fullback, wing or in the centres before excelleing in the No.10 at Queensland Reds.
“There might be chat of him moving back to fullback,” Latham said.
“You need those players that can play unpredictably within a structure.
“I thought that was the difference that Quade brought – he made the Boks sit back and watch.
“Having O’Connor, another strike weapon out there, as well as Samu (Kerevi at inside centre) with that direct running and ability to offload and ball-play.
“That mix-up again will make the Boks think ‘if we rush we’re going to get hurt, so we have to wait’ and then you get that indecision, and that’s where opportunities start.”
The Wallabies team will be announced at 11.30 AEST.