Genia hopes for happy end to rocky World Cup journey
28 October 2015, 19:07
Teddington — Will Genia's journey to the Rugby World Cup final began with knee surgery and a prank call about a credit-card default.
"I never thought I would be here, I never thought I would be playing for Australia in this tournament," says the Australia scrumhalf, for whom things have panned out pretty well in the end.
Genia heads into Saturday's showpiece match against New Zealand as an established starter for the Wallabies once again, the little general behind a red-hot backline, and — most crucially — back to full fitness after an injury-hit few years.
There's also a hint of sadness inside Genia, who is treating this as his last game in the green-and-gold jersey — despite being only 27 years old. After the tournament, he is off to play for Stade Francais in the French Top 14, leaving him out of sight of the selectors back home and his international career on rocky ground.
It's making Genia appreciate the position he finds himself in, although reflections on his "journey" — a word that has been used feely in the Australia camp this week — can wait a few more days.
Four years ago, Genia was regarded as the world's best scrumhalf, with his explosive pace, strength, and low centre of gravity making him tough to quell around the set-piece and breakdown. By then, he'd already captained Queensland Reds, his Super Rugby franchise, at age 22, and the Papua New Guinea-born Genia would soon wear the armband for his adopted country at test level.
Things started to nosedive in 2013, when his form dipped and he was dropped by then-Australia coach Ewen McKenzie. He had already been troubled by some knee injuries, and he picked up even more, the latest coming midway through Australia's first game of this year's Rugby Championship against South Africa in July.
It required an operation, and with Nick Phipps and Nic White also pressing for the No. 9 jersey, Genia's World Cup ambitions were threatened.
Newly hired coach Michael Cheika never lost his belief in Genia and selected him in the 31-man World Cup squad — although there was to be a little surprise for Genia before he found out.
Anxiously awaiting the nod from selectors, Genia finally received a phone call, but it was from a man calling about a default on Genia's credit card.
"You have a bill to pay and, if you don't, I'm going to have to report you" the voice said, before a laugh and an "I gotcha." The call was from Australia great George Gregan, one of the former Wallabies entrusted to give the news about selection.
From then on, Genia hasn't looked back. He impressed off the bench in Australia's World Cup warm-up match against the United States, and has started all of Australia's big games in Britain, establishing a good rapport with flyhalf Bernard Foley.
Genia says Cheika's backing has been important.
"He is one of those guys if he believes in you, he will give you a go and he will back you," Genia said. "For me, that is really important and I know I have the trust and belief of the boss in me. That gives me the confidence to go out there and play the way I like to play, and be confident in my game."
Genia hasn't been the sniping line-breaker of old at this tournament. He has focused more on getting quick passes away to free up the back division, and being one of the on-field leaders under captain Stephen Moore. Genia and Moore are two of eight captains the Wallabies have had since the 2011 World Cup.
And his tackling is still strong, impressively so for someone weighing 82 kilograms and standing 1.74 meters — small in rugby's land of giants.
Genia was at boarding school and glued to the television the last time Australia played in a Rugby World Cup final, against England in 2003. That didn't go so well for the Wallabies but with Genia back in form, they'll be hoping for a better result 12 years on.
"It's just a special bunch of players," Genia said. "In this group, you don't want to let anyone down. That's been a big driver for me in this tournament."
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