TheW Whitestuff

By Smith, Aidan | The Scotsman, September 28, 2019 | Go to article overview

TheW Whitestuff


Smith, Aidan, The Scotsman


It was Scotland vs Ireland in a different age - back when we used to thump them regularly, rather than they us - and the lolloping lofty pine of the Dark Blue back row had undergone one of those extended spells of soulful introspection which were typical of him and he'd arrived at a decision. "I'd had enough," recalls Derek White, "and I told JJ that after the game I'd be jacking it in." So what happened? Fellow breakaway man John Jeffrey and the rest of the team got to look on and cheer as the big man crashed over for two tries.

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP "lethargic,needed pepping up.

… He'd start off very calm, If he'd stuck to his guns, the others would definitely have tried one last time to talk him out of quitting. But it wasn't White's celebrity as the hero of the day which persuaded him to change his mind. He simply concluded that he might be doing something right after all. So Jim Telfer was pleased, yes? The coach must have congratulated him at the final whistle, a big, bashed-ear-to-bashed-ear man-hug between master and pupil? "Not likely!" he laughs.

The relationship between Telfer and White? It's complicated, as they say in romcoms, although who takes the Jennifer Aniston role given that I don't think yon bonnie actress has ever smelt of Ralgex, I'm not too sure.

But that Lansdowne Road victory and White's plundering were absolutely crucial. Without them, no Grand Slam.

Of all the heroes of 1990 maybe White, now 61, is the most shy and retiring. He was a forward not a back, therefore involved in the dirty work that's so important but often goes unnoticed by the untrained eye. He was a forward but not David Sole, Captain Headband, or JJ or Finlay Calder, the far more conspicuous white shark and angry rhino of the breakaway unit. And for a long time he's been exiled in England, way down in Hampshire which is where I find him, a lab technician-turned-financial adviser, after Calder passes me his number with what I take to be a firm character recommendation: "Deep man."

We'll get back to 1990 shortly - there are only 170 days until the 30th anniversary, after all - but first let's talk World Cups and Samoans. This is the current Scotland team's challenge in Kobe on Monday, just as it was for the White-era XV in a quarter-final of the '91 tournament. The Scots enjoyed home advantage at Murrayfield in a competition spread round all of the Five Nations and the opposition back then were known as Western Samoa, although there was nothing reduced about them.

Says our man: "We were wary because they'd caused a shock in the groups by beating Wales at Cardiff Arms Park and only losing 9-3 to Australia who went on to win the cup that year. They were a big, dangerous team. They had players who would go on to play not just rugby league and in world XVs but would win caps for the All Blacks - guys like Frank Bunce and Timo Tagaloa and Stephen Bachop." They also had Brian Lima, nicknamed "The Chiropractor" because of the shuddering hits which supposedly re-arranged the bones of his victims, and Mathew Vaea who would manage Samoa at the 2011 World Cup only to end up being censured by his home village for treating the tournament as a holiday. The fine? 100 pigs.

"But we had Gav [Gavin Hastings]," adds White. "He kind of semi-joined us in the back-row, involving himself in real rugby for a change! But he played a blinder, charging into the Samoans every chance he got. Maybe him being this auxiliary flanker confused them. They were as tough as we'd been expecting but we eventually got control of the game, kept it tight, didn't allow the Samoans to prey on guys who'd become isolated and I'm pretty sure JJ scored a couple of tries."

WITH JIM TELFER lazyeven,and Imeanhe but 2 " He did, but what a contest there was between the two blond-thatched members of the Scotland pack over who could cross the whitewash most often. The private battle ended 11-each. "JJ had already retired by the time I drew level with him in a match against England [Murrayfield, 1992]. …

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