Nathan White hasn’t taken the typical route to reach his first Six Nations. As Ireland’s Carton House training camp buzzed with the likes of Garry Ringrose (21), Josh van der Flier (22) and Stuart McCloskey (23) hopeful of fulfilling childhood dreams of representing their country, White sits at the other end of the scale, coming into the tournament at the age of 34.
It’s an unexpected turn of events for the New Zealander and now that he’s here, his next focus is to make amends for autumn’s World Cup heartbreak and experience success at international level.
‘There’s a little bit of unfinished business after the Argentina game. After such a big high of the France week – everyone was buzzing after that – for it to just fizzle out in the end was just very disappointing.
‘For the guys who get to put the shirt on this weekend it’s the first chance from there. Obviously Joe (Schmidt) and everyone looked at that game in the last few weeks – where we can improve on that – what we did well and what didn’t go so well. So now we get to go out finally and try and right the wrong.’
Of course, not being a home-grown Irish player White acknowledges that he leaves himself open to more scrutiny, but while he has taken great pride in his eight Ireland caps to date, he simply views his international duty as another day at the office.
‘I think no matter who you are, you have got to come in and perform don’t you? Whether you have lived in Ireland all your life or you are like me and have done your three years. It’s probably a little bit harder for me, the spotlights are on and people may look at you a bit more closely. There is that little pressure from outside, but I think the pressure from inside the camp is to perform and do well. That’s what I try to do.’
After nine years with Hamilton’s Waikato Chiefs, White left his homeland in search of new challenges in the northern hemisphere, arriving in Ireland in 2011 to sign for Schmidt’s Leinster.
‘That first conversation with Joe, I think that he talked for 30 minutes and I might have talked for two. Just a lot of listening and seeing what he had to say. They’d just come off a Heineken Cup win and it’s pretty exciting to come to a team like that,’ added White.
One of the opportunities he insists was never on his radar was that of an international career. That door only opened when Connacht came knocking with the offer of a three-year contract when his deal with Leinster had ended. A word in his ear from Schmidt helped him make the decision to stay in Ireland and join the Westerners, with a new focus placed on international Test rugby.
‘It was (originally) just come over and play for Leinster, see what happens. I remember having a chat with Joe, when I was sort of deciding where I should go next and make a decision, and he talked to me and he didn’t realise I hadn’t represented any New Zealand team. So I had a good chat and I decided to stay with Connacht.’
White is now in his fourth year with the province and qualified to play for Ireland in November 2014. Unfortunately, his long road to international status took an unexpected turn that same month when a bicep injury, picked up shortly after he was selected for the end of year Tests, ruled him out of action until January.
‘I was pretty down for a long time – after that I had three months where I couldn’t play. You think about it a lot and you get down, definitely,’ he admits.
‘The summer before I’d had a back operation as well and when that happens you start thinking about things. But it’s probably the beauty of rugby: you’ve got a good support network. Guys pick you up and keep you going.
‘You just keep trying to reach that dream of playing international rugby. It’s really what’s driving me – it’s to play at the top level.’
For White, his long wait is finally over.