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Nic White ‘happily’ embraces fierce challenge in new Wallabies squad

By Finn Morton
Australia's scrum-half Tate McDermott (L) and Australia's scrum-half Nic White celebrate after winning the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Schmidt has rewarded stars who shone brightest during Super Rugby Pacific in the Wallabies’ first squad of their new era under the mastermind coach from New Zealand. There were some much-deserved inclusions in the group that was announced on Friday.

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There are 13 uncapped players in the squad which includes former All Blacks prop Alex Hodgman, young Queensland Reds playmaker Tom Lynagh and former Australia sevens and Junior Wallabies standout Darby Lancaster.

But beyond the completely new faces in the Wallabies’ setup, some players have chipped away behind the scenes for a recall. NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon hasn’t played since Australia’s famous comeback win over Wales in 2022 but is now back in the mix.

Of the three halfbacks who were selected in last year’s Rugby World Cup squad, Nic White and Tate McDermott have retained their spots. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa was reliable for the Force this season but has made way for Gordon.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
26
29
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
60%

While every athlete wants their moment in the spotlight by either starting or coming off the bench, White is embracing the opportunity to both compete and support the other halfbacks in the Aussie squad.

“Two blokes who have played really well this year, Jake and Tate,” the veteran of more than 60 Tests told Western Force media with a smile.

“We’ve been working together for the last five or six years now. Really good to see those boys getting better and better, and I still feel like I’ve got plenty to offer both on the field and off the field as a group.

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“We all get along really well. Looking forward to getting into camp with those boys and pushing each other to get the best out of each other.

”If there’s anything I can pass on through my experience or what I’ve done then I’ll happily do that.

“There’s two great blokes, we’re a good little trio. It’s just good to see them playing some really good footy.”

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Coach Schmidt’s first Wallabies squad only features players who are based in Australia. Last year’s initial World Cup skipper Will Skelton was not selected, and there wasn’t room for Richard Arnold or others.

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Kurtley Beale, Filipo Daugunu and Len Ikitau join Gordon as some of the players who have been rewarded for their consistency by returning to the national team after some time away. In the forwards, the same can be said for Harry Wilson and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

It’s a moment to be celebrated but as White insisted, “there’s still a lot of hard work to be done” before taking on a new-look Wales side coached by rugby guru Warren Gatland in Sydney and Melbourne next month.

“You never take them for granted. This one more so than ever [with] a new coach. Certainly getting a little bit longer in the tooth,” White discussed.

“To see your name and hear your name called out, it’s a great feeling.

“To be in a squad to represent your country, it’s why you play the game. There’s still a lot of hard work to be done but I’ve got my foot in the door now and looking forward to getting into camp.

“Wales, they picked a pretty young squad. A lot of sides are in a different position to us, we’ve got a four-year [World Cup] cycle. We don’t quite have that with having the British and Irish Lions just 18 months away,” he added.

“They picked a pretty young squad but I know coached by Warren Gatland, they’ll be pretty sure in what their gameplan is and how they’ll play.

“They’re going to be a very tough opposition. Obviously, we don’t forget what they did to us at the World Cup. We’re right up for a tough task right from the start.”

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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