22 February 2023
“It’s definitely been a ‘pinch yourself’ last few weeks,” Ben White confessed.
In the Guinness Six Nations fallow week, Irish’s scrum-half had the time to express his joy in being able to pull on the jersey of his home country.
Away from adorning the Thistle, White made his short period with Irish count last weekend, scoring a try as a replacement in the Club’s first win away to Bath Rugby in 14 years.
He resumes his international duties this Sunday when playing reigning title-holders France, but a first competition start against England at Twickenham Stadium is what made it a memorable opening to the year.
“It’s been awesome to get the opportunity to play for Scotland again, when Gregor [Townsend] came up to me and told me before the team meeting that I was going to start, I couldn’t stop smiling for 10 minutes.
“We were a hotel in Spain and everyone was sat in the team room, there was a nervous energy because Gregor was in his room pulling lads for a chat, and we were all sitting wondering who is next.
“I got the nod to go in, I had all sorts of thoughts going through my head; ‘Am I in, am I out?!’ and when you come out the lads are asking what he said.
“I had a big grin on my face and the lads were congratulating me, I was walking around the hotel thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m starting for Scotland!’ - it was all very exciting.
“Two weeks of winning makes everything better of course, it’s an exciting group to be a part of because of the players we have and the way we play.”
It was indeed against England where his story with Gregor Townsend’s set-up as a Scotland international began this time last year, scoring a try on his senior international debut to win 20-17.
A year later, White repeated the same fate as Scotland secured a consecutive treble of Calcutta Cup wins, this time at Twickenham.
The 24-year-old reflected on a near ineffable moment of walking out to represent his country on the international stage as a starter.
“You go into a mode of knowing you have to play well and you go through what we done in the week and analysed, It makes you realise you have a job to do, and you have to deliver.
“Driving from home to Sunbury every day, I pass Twickenham and in the back of my head, I always think about getting picked for that game.
“It’s a great stadium to play at, but it’s even better to win as a Scot!
“To sing the anthem in front of an 80,000 strong crowd is incredible because you could hear the Scotland fans there, I couldn’t believe how many there were – it is the best anthem too!”
A week later, the headline-grabbing Scots were required to reinforce their opening round win picked up south of the border, as Townsend’s men returned to BT Murrayfield for their first home fixture of 2023.
A first start for White in the national stadium made that occasion all the more special, as he competed for the Doddie Weir Cup for a second time.
White paints a picture of a home matchday as a Scotland player as the Thistle made it two from two in 2023 with a 35-7 win over Warren Gatland’s men.
“If there is one game you can get to as a rugby fan, it’s a Scotland game at Murrayfield because whether you are a Scotland fan or not, it’s the most special occasion.
“It does bring a tear to your eye, you see how moved and proud people are in wanting us to win.
“When you’re a few feet away from someone screaming their nation on, you want to deliver for those people because you know how much it means, especially for a win against England!
“Princess Anne said to me ‘Good try against England’ which made my year, I wanted to dance on the spot – instead, I just said thank you!
“We came to the stadium and laid a signed shirt down at the Doddie Weir monument, it was a lovely moment seeing how much he affected the players in the squad and the fans.
“He was a huge character in the rugby world and what he’s done through his illness and raising awareness about motor neurone disease (MND) was inspiring, so to win the Doddie Weir Cup made it all the more special.”
In his two starts so far White has been a focal point in his country recording two opening wins in the Five or Six Nations since 1996.
Sitting second behind Ireland in the table only on points difference, big tests against for Scotland the pace-setters and France too will gauge the soundness of a potential first charge to a title in 24 years.
“We spoke straight away after England about backing it up and improving going forward, and to do that against Wales with their record against us was immense.
“As a group, we are very tight and tend not to listen to too much pre-match media, but we were told how we hadn’t won against a Warren Gatland side.
“We’re getting better week on week and that performance against Wales was better, it shows what we’re about as a group in always wanting to do more.
“Our next two games are against the number one and number two nations in the world, you look around the room and everyone feels confident we can go and get wins.”
Scotland duty never detracts White from life at Irish, however, as he keeps a keen eye on all the developments at his home Club when away from the Hazelwood Centre.
“I’m a bit of a rugby nause to be honest, I keep up with the boys when I’m away and reflect on training.
“Sometimes on my days off with Scotland, I’ll watch back our training when I’m sat in my hotel room and have nothing to do.
“I watched the semi-final against Northampton; our Prem Cup run has had some young players seriously deliver, and that’s really showing on the training pitch in between games too.
“Lads like Juan [Martín González], TP [Tom Pearson], Will [Joseph], Henry [Arundell] and Chandler [Cunningham-South], they’re all in their early 20s.
“It brings up our performances on the weekend, that includes all the coaches and staff involved in the Academy to make that conveyor belt of talent.”
Throughout this year’s Six Nations period, Irish has thus far put forward nine international representatives across senior and age-grade tournaments.
With White facing Ollie Hassell-Collins in the tournament opener, time will only tell if he takes on other Exiles in Danilo Fischetti and Luca Morisi in Round 5 – it has been a truly momentous and noble few months for the Club.
A humble perspective from the half-back recognises the role his time in west London has played in furthering his international opportunities over the past year.
“It’s a credit to the Club, from my perspective moving here was the best thing that ever happened to me.
“The environment and the staff are fantastic, everyone here at Hazelwood is determined to get London Irish to the top of the Premiership and I know wouldn’t be in the position I am in now without this Club and the coaches.
“The way they spoke about my game and my work-ons, but also the confidence they have given me has made it an amazing thing to be a part of.
“That shows with the amount of internationals we have and how many of them who have come through the Academy, which will only grow.
“Everything is aimed towards that performance, but also enjoying the ride, we just have to make sure we put in the best performances.
“I can’t emphasise how exciting a place it is to be.”