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England v Italy, Six Nations Championship, February 7
White swaps sheep for scrum
February 5, 2009
England's Julian White pictured during a training session, The Madejski Dome, Reading, England, February 3, 2009
White returns to the international stage against Italy at Twickenham this weekend © Getty Images

England veteran Julian White will swap rounding up sheep for shepherding the Italy pack when he lines up against the Azzurri at Twickenham on Saturday.

White, 35, will return to the international stage this weekend for the first time in over two years having been handed a recall last month by manager Martin Johnson but while most professional players spend their days off conserving energy, the prop returns home to work on his 240-acre farm near Market Harborough.

The recent weather has been a "nightmare" but when he is not locking horns on the field there is nothing White enjoys more than an early morning spent tending to his 250 ewes and 60 prime Devon cattle.

"With rugby you have all this down-time and I couldn't think of anything worse than twiddling my thumbs. I would rather be doing something," said White. "I could sit back and go for coffees now but I am coming to the end - I have probably got another year of rugby in me - and I know that in 12 months time I will be looking to do something else.

"Farming is something you go into as a way of life, not to make lots of money. You do it because you are passionate about it. I had a small flock of sheep. We rented a field and then my wife bought me a cow for Christmas. Since then we have increased our numbers.

"For me, getting up first thing in the morning, jumping on the quad and taking the dog out to move the sheep or cattle gives me a lot of pleasure. It is a good break from the rugby as well because it can be very intense."

White won the last of his 44 caps against Wales in 2007 and his international career appeared over when he withdrew from the Rugby World Cup due to family and farming commitments. Martin Johnson placed White on standby after a series of destructive performances for Leicester this season - but he did not expect the call to come in the circumstances it did, after Matt Stevens failed a drugs test.

White was delighted to join England on their training camp in Portugal and he will start on the bench against Italy this weekend. But the short notice meant he and his wife Sara had to call in a few favours on the farm.

"It is great to be back but it is a bit of a shock at the same time," said White. "I was on standby and there to be called up if there was an injury. I wouldn't have dreamed what happened to Matt. It was a phone call out of the blue. Luckily I have some good friends in the area and they all stepped in to help out. I am lucky to have a very patient wife as I try to juggle both (rugby and the farm)."

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