Nic White says he will forever remember his time in Exeter, not just for the enjoyment he got from playing for the Chiefs, but from the warmth and support he received from the club’s supporters and the region itself.
After three memorable years in Devon, the 30-year-old and his family are heading back to his native Australia, ready to start a second stint in Super Rugby with his former club, the Brumbies.
As part of the agreement that saw him feature for the Wallabies at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, it was agreed that White would return Down Under once his contract with the Chiefs has been fulfilled.
Sadly for White, the global coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt halt to rugby life for everyone and it has meant the Scone-born half-back has not been able to pull on a Chiefs jersey since they defeated Bath in the Gallagher Premiership back in March.
With the Premiership not set to return until August 15 at the earliest, it’s meant White has been forced to concede that he will not be able to run out for the Devonians one last time. Instead, he will soon be packing up his belongings and travelling back to Australia with wife Mel and their two sons, Leo and Sonny.
Having bid an emotional farewell to his team-mates at the Chiefs this week, White said: “It’s not the way I wanted to finish my time here. I’m still digesting it all, but I tell myself don’t cry that it’s over, but smile that it happened.
“I have had an incredible three years here. Despite not winning any trophies, which I’d love to have done, I’d say it’s been a successful stint here. I don’t have the vocabulary to say how thankful I am to the club, the fans, everyone for how good these three years have been. It’s been outstanding!
“Before I arrived, I had every hope that my stay in Exeter would be enjoyable, but’s far exceeded that. Myself and my wife have loved it here and we’ve had some very special times, including the birth of our two English boys. As I said, although we haven’t won anything during my time here, it’s still been a very successful time in my career and I am confident the boys will now go on and finish the job we started this season. When I’m back home, I will share a beer from afar and say I was part of it all.”
Having sat on the Twickenham turf a year ago having just suffered a narrow loss to Saracens in the end of season showpiece final, White vowed that he would do everything in his power to ensure that his final year as a Chief would be one to remember.
To all extent and purpose, White and the Chiefs were on course to achieve that aim this season. Top of the Premiership currently, Rob Baxter’s side are also nicely placed in Europe as well, having secured home advantage against Northampton Saints in the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” added White, who hopes his return to Australia will see him further add to his 26 Test caps to date. “I really thought we were on to something this year. We’re going well in the Prem and just as good in Europe. It’s going to be sad not being part of it all, but I’m extremely confident the boys will finish the job. We’ve got a great squad here, the coaching staff are unbelievable and, when I’m back home, I’ll be getting up in the early hours to cheer the boys on.”
As well as impressing many with his on-field displays, White has also proved a hugely popular figure amongst his team-mates, club staff and supporters alike.
“I’m going home not only a better player, but a better person,” he admitted. “Since joining this club, there is no doubt I’ve improved as a player and a lot of that is down to those who are around me. My team-mates, the coaches, they’ve been awesome!
“Equally, I’ve matured as a person, both on and off the field. I know I keep saying it, but this has been a very special time for me and Mel in our lives. Yes, we’re sad we’re leaving and the regret is I didn’t win anything with this group, but at the same time we’re taking with us so many positives.
“This place is unique and a great environment to be around. If I knew the secret, I’d become a coach. Obviously, Rob knows the secret, but it starts from the very top and just runs right through the heart of everything. From the boys in the changing room, to the staff, to the supporters, it’s amazing.
“And if a player in the future asks me about coming to the Chiefs, I’d say ‘Jump at it!’
“I was lucky to get the call and I’m lucky to have played my small part in it all. If I was to describe it in a word, it would be ‘welcoming’. I know clubs will say they have a brilliant, family environment, but this is something else. You look around here now, there are hundreds of different sponsorship boards around the pitch, that shows you what it means to the local community.”
Indeed, such is the way that White has embraced Westcountry life - particularly here at the Chiefs - he says running out at other venues will never feel the same as what it did here in Devon.
“Game days at Sandy Park are special, you just don’t see it at other places,” he explained. “Even when you come out before the game to warm-up, you run across the pitch in front of the library, they are there hours before kick-off and they start with the Tomahawk Chop. Every time I experience it, I still get goosebumps. I try to explain it to people at home, but I can’t do it justice. I’m just so glad that my family have got to come here and experience what game days are like.
“What we have here is something special and something you don’t see in other parts of the world, that’s why you must cherish it!”