Fit-again Will Genia eager for game time under Michael Cheika

Wallaby scrumhalf believes players ready to buy into new coach’s philosophy

Will Genia was the best scrumhalf in the world. A professional rugby player since the Queensland Reds pulled him and Quade Cooper from the under-19 world cup in Belfast seven years ago, few speed bumps slowed his rapid rise.

A Stephen Ferris bear hug here, an All Black trashing there, his seemed a charmed existence.

Cracks and fissures are inevitable though, particularly in this game. He only recently started lifting weights again after two years, having been denied this luxury by shoulder, neck and knee problems.

His form dipped so obviously that Ewen McKenzie, Michael Cheika’s predecessor as Wallaby coach, not only dropped Genia but excluded him entirely. Nick Phipps became the starting nine with Nic White the reserve.


Last time the 26-year-old, born in Papua New Guinea, started for Australia was against Wales 12 months ago.

Next came syndesmosis of the ankle, requiring surgery, and another three month lay-off. “It was probably made worse that I played on it for three or four weeks.”

Leinster’s Dominic Ryan did something similar to the detriment of a career that’s only beginning to recover. So, while not quite of Luke Fitzgerald proportions, Genia is yet another example of a rugby player paying for his own raw brilliance. “The body feels good, the ankle feels good, I just need game time now.”

Pain barrier

He was the best scrumhalf in the world but these past two years he’s been just another rugby player playing while hurt. “Ah look, playing bad games you are playing bad games. I’m not going to point to injuries.”

Others will do that for him.

Cheika has only six Test matches to transfer his philosophy to the Wallaby squad to ensure qualification from a World Cup Pool where they must beat Wales and England each on home soil.

On Saturday evening in the Stade de France, as they tracked a 10-point deficit, Genia, the general, was sent into the fray. So was Cooper, albeit at centre alongside Bernard Foley. “It was good to get back out there and add some pace to the game. I’m definitely comfortable playing with (Quade). It was a new perspective. Sitting on the bench, me and Quade were saying ‘aw, we should do this,’ and ‘let’s do this when we get on’.”

They did. Both Queensland halfbacks touched the ball before Rob Simmons’ late try that almost snatched victory away from a deserving, albeit tiring French outfit. Either way, a certainty under Cheika is the tried and trusted will be used (Johnny Sexton had to wait a long, long time for Felipe Contepomi to get injured).

Genia laughs when it's suggested the former Leinster coach was destined for the national role he took up in the aftermath of McKenzie's recent resignation following the Kurtley Beale/Di Patston controversy.

“I can’t really say that. The circumstances and timing of how he got the job are very well documented. There is also things we don’t know. The fact that he is here now is the reality that we got to deal with.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement so we seek the significance of Cheika’s Waratahs capturing the Super Rugby title after just two years in charge of a squad previously mired in mediocrity. To provide context, the New South Wales franchise went from 11th in 2012 to ninth in 2013 to champions.

Cheika thoughts

“Oh, I think it was outstanding. He’s a very strong man, mentally. When he got the Waratahs job he came out and said it is not about results it is about learning a way to play and do things. He had to cop a fair bit of criticism in terms of the results but he turned it right around the very next year.Winning the

Heineken Cup

is a massive achievement as well. I was aware of that because of the

Rocky Elsom

connection as well.”

It took Cheika four years to harden Leinster resolve enough to conquer Europe. Saturday is the fourth of nine games until the World Cup opener against Fiji on September 23rd. Time is the enemy.

“I don’t think so. He knows exactly how he wants to play the game. It’s just all about whether everyone buys into it. From the training session we’ve had, the games we’ve had, the meetings we’ve had, everyone is excited and has bought into the way he wants to play the game.

“I think we have the players to play that type of game.”

Spoken like someone who was once the best scrumhalf in the world. And might be again.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent