Scotsman Ben White: ‘Finn is probably the best defender in the world right now’ | Scottish rugby team

to meeven six weeks ago you would have had a good chance of Ben White being one of the most important players in the Six Nations Championship. Or, indeed, of Scotland defeating all the other “mother nations” in the same campaign. Aside from the 1984 and 1990 Grand Slam seasons, Scotland’s last standalone treble was shelved before the Second World War.

Coincidentally, in 1938 Scotland had a similar game plan until 2023. The intentionally fast-paced game, designed around their brilliant midfielder Wilson Shaw, worked 85 years ago and history could repeat itself. With white in the scrum half upping the pace and his half defense partner Finn Russell capitalizing on the momentum, France could have easily lost in Paris last month.

For anyone who has seen the Irish in London this season, this is simply a confirmation of what they have been enjoying for some time. The 24-year-old’s energy and alertness have helped him to the playoffs, and the more eagerly attacking Exiles are arguably the most watched team in the Premiership. If they and Scotland continue to operate freely, it will not be a coincidence.

It can already be argued that White was the most influential number nine of the tournament even before France’s Mohamed Haouas headbutted him in Paris. Supplying Russell with a red-hot fast ball remains his main job, but as his shrewd opportunist at Twickenham has highlighted, he has also threatened on the outskirts. Not bad for a player who had never started a Six Nations game prior to last month and was surplus to requirements at Leicester less than two years ago.

His departure from Welford Road with two years left on his contract was groundbreaking in many ways. Tigers coach at the time, Steve Borthwick, already had Ben Youngs, White and young Jack van Poortvliet, but decided to bring in the experienced Richard Wigglesworth as well.

“It’s a professional sport, someone had to take the hit, and Steve knew it was me,” says White. “If anything, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I learned a lot from those times, but playing for the Irish is what kicked me off.

Most notably, the Stoke White-born former England U-20 captain, who became Leicester Premiership’s youngest player in 2017 at the age of 17, is now free to play the rugby he prefers for club and national team. “I love to play fast. There’s balance at this level, of course, but when it’s fast and exciting, that’s how you want to play.

So it’s no surprise that his face lights up when Russell’s name comes up. “He plays very well with him. In my eyes, she’s probably the best fly half in the world right now. The sooner I pass the ball to him, the faster Scotland plays and the better we look.

“If you play scrum half fast and move the ball well, you will naturally draw other players into the game and open up space for you. One of the reasons Ireland and Leinster have been so successful is the speed at which Jamison Gibson-Park plays. When you manage to find a balance between playing fast, being physical and using kicks, it’s a dangerous combination.

Ben White celebrates scoring a goal for Scotland at Twickenham
White scored an opportunistic try against England at Twickenham in Scotland’s victory. Photo: Garry Bowden/Shutterstock

When it comes to fitness, it helps that White’s girlfriend, British tennis player Jodie Burrage, is also a professional athlete. Burrage, ranked 133rd in the world, is a good friend among others. Emma Raducan. “Emma and Jodie are really good friends and they keep in touch a lot, but they’re always on the go. Jodie was in Indian Wells this week and she’s in Miami next week. There’s a lot of FaceTime.”

However, according to White, Burrage’s most competitive bouts often take place at the table tennis table. “Sometimes I have her, although she won’t like me saying that. And she’ll say I’m lying. I’d say we’re both quite competitive. We definitely both push each other.

“Sometimes we come home, sit on the couch and say we’re done. But it’s great that Jodes is doing what he’s doing. I want to support her in her goals, and she does the same with me. It’s nice to have someone who understands the challenge and who you can talk to about it.”

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White studies interior design while his father works as a tax director for Bet365. Standing at 5 feet 11 inches, the scrum half was qualified for Scotland by his grandfather, Jim, who grew up in Edinburgh and was an engineer in Leith before moving south to become a university lecturer in Staffordshire.

If last year’s debut attempt from the bench at Murrayfield in the Calcutta Cup was exceptional, starting against the unrivaled Antoine Dupont last week was another personal thrill. “I want to grow and see how far I can go. It’s a funny thing. You believe in yourself that you’re ready, but you don’t know until you get the opportunity.”

More and more often, however, it seems that he is the man in the right place at the right time. Ambitious, smart, athletic and focused, he makes no secret of wanting to go even further. Scotland’s failure to push back France was disappointing. “Looking back, we missed opportunities and probably could have won. We didn’t do that because we weren’t as thorough as we were in the first two games.

However, should the Irish be beaten at Murrayfield on Sunday, an interesting reception awaits White when he returns to the club ahead of the highly anticipated St Patrick’s Party match against Northampton on March 25.

Declan Kidney, the former Ireland head coach, kept White on the pitch throughout Sunday’s 34-19 win over Newcastle except in the closing moments – “Declan said last week he would try to tire me out. I think he was joking” – and an Irish Grand Slam would certainly be well received by many at the club.

“I’m sure they want me to do well, but Ireland won,” laughs White. Whatever happens, Scotland’s quick show will be worth watching.

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