Nic White believes the future of the Brumbies and the Wallabies is in good hands with a crop of talented young players coming through the system.
The 30-year-old scrum-half now sees himself as a mentor to the likes of Ryan Lonergan, who started ahead of him in the Super Rugby AU win at Melbourne Rebels last weekend, in much the same way that Wallaby legend George Gregan guided him in his formative years as a pro.
Former Junior Wallaby U20 captain Lonergan and Noah Lolesio make for an exciting half-back partnership and White hopes they can underpin the Brumbies’ quest to recapture the glory days of old when the Canberra-based team claimed two Super Rugby titles in 2001 and 2004.
Last year’s Super Rugby AU win, and qualification for this year’s semi-finals, suggests the Brumbies are heading in the right direction. You can check out the Brumbies’ progress for free thanks to World Rugby’s live streaming service.
“Those are two guys (Lonergan and Lolesio) who are more or less in their first and second years of Super Rugby so they’re going to get better and better with the more time they have in the saddle,” White said.
“They have both got all the skills to be a great nine-10 combination and, hopefully, they will be here in three to four years leading the side into a bit of a dynasty, that’s the goal anyway.
“Len Ikitau at 13 and Bobbie Valetini at six, these are the other guys just coming into their own and there’s a heap of youngsters underneath them biting at their heels.
“Rod (McKellar, Brumbies head coach) is doing a great job in keeping those guys around, there are 23 to 24-year-olds everywhere, and if we can keep the squad together for the next three to four years, the sky's the limit.”
Crusaders set the standards
In mid-May, the Brumbies will kick off the new six-week, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition with a game against New Zealand’s all-conquering Crusaders.
And White says the 10-time Super Rugby winners are the benchmark the Brumbies should aspire to.
“What we are building here is awesome; we want to build something special.
“We look across to the Crusaders and what they have done in recent times and go, ‘why can’t that be us?’
“We know a lot of hard work is involved in achieving that going forward, and we are up against it with the (table-topping) Reds, but we are confident we can do the job.”
White, 30, returned home to the Brumbies last June after five years overseas, at Montpellier in France followed by a successful three-season spell at the Exeter Chiefs in England.
While contracted to the Chiefs, White represented Australia at Rugby World Cup 2019 as well as playing a significant role in the club’s double-winning season.
Due to the Wallabies’ selection criteria and impact of COVID-19, the moustachioed scrum-half was not able to see out the season in its entirety.
But Chiefs team manager Tony Walker arranged for White’s Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup winner’s medals to be shipped over to him, in recognition of his contribution to the cause.
“It was disappointing not to kind of finish off the season with Exeter. There was certainly a sense we would go all the way; we’d spoken about doing the double and they went on and did it.
“Obviously, it would have been great to have been there but missing the back end of Exeter’s season, that gave me an opportunity to finish off the Super Rugby season.
“I got to play the last four games and stepped into a side that was doing well and was lucky enough to win a trophy.
“I lifted one here in Australia and watched the boys lift two back in the UK, which was special.”
🥝🦘 With Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman set to kick off on May 14, we bring you five classic NZ vs Australia Super Rugby games to whet your appetite for return of Trans-Tasman rugby.— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 19, 2021
While Lonergan has proved an able deputy to White with the Brumbies – he famously came on and kicked the winning goal against the Rebels earlier this season, he will have to bide his time to do the same at international level.
Younger brother Lachlan Lonergan has been named in Dave Rennie’s 40-man training squad for the upcoming series against France, but Ryan has not.
France have shown what can be achieved when youth is given its head and White is excited at the prospect of so much young talent on display in the three-match series.
“We’ve got a young squad at the Brumbies, the Reds’ squad is just as young and the Waratahs’ is probably even younger … all of the Super Rugby sides here are young, and that leads into the national squad. We saw a lot of guys getting first caps last year.
“That was probably the same with France a couple of years ago and look at where they are now.
“Guys that have spent a little bit of time in the national team have gotten more comfortable and confident and are playing some exciting rugby.
“Look at Antoine Dupont, he is the best nine in the world at the moment and he only really came on the scene a couple of years ago.
“They (France) are the blueprint of how quickly you can turn things around if you stick with the younger guys. The Six Nations was theirs really to be won but they fell at the last hurdle.
“Yeah, we had some draws and a few disappointments last year but a lot of lessons were learnt.
“It should be pretty good weather when we play them down here and both teams should be able to play with a bit of flair. It should be cracking.”