Can the 'real' Wallabies No.9 please stand up?
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Australia coach Michael Cheika has a number of big decisions to make after the Wallabies’ loss to Wales on Sunday and the identity of his first-choice scrumhalf is one of the most pressing.
Currently Will Genia and Nic White are Cheika’s two preferred scrumhalves.
However, neither player has yet made a compelling case for the starter’s jersey.
In the opening pool D match against Fiji, Genia came on in the 51st minute for a replacement for White.
During the 39-21 win over Fiji, Genia helped turn the game on its head. The Wallabies scored 24 unanswered points during the 29 minutes he was on the field. The scrumhalf, who is soon to retire, won his 106th cap and his experience was evident.
A week later, against Wales, the roles were reversed. Genia gave way to White after a torrid first 52 minutes during which he conceded an intercept try to his opposite number, Gareth Davies. The veteran also missed one of the two tackles he attempted.
While White visibly upped the tempo and also directed Australia around the field with clarity and confidence. The Wallabies then pulled back to within one point of Wales from an 18-point deficit.
The statistics from Australia’s opening two games are no help to Cheika either. When Genia started he made far more metres in his 52 minutes against Wales than White had made in the No.9 jersey against Fiji (21m as opposed to 0m). But White set up a try, made more tackles, and secured two more turnovers.
Commenting on the duo’s form over the past two games at the World Cup, White reckoned bench players may be shining because their arrival coincides with defenders starting to wobble in Japan’s humid conditions.
“In these conditions everyone gets pretty tired and you’re coming on with fresh legs so it’s exciting and it’s a different role but one that Willy [Will Genia] had really good pay in the first week and obviously there were some tired bodies on the weekend and I came on,” he said.
“It’s a different role but one that either one of us can play,”
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White added that Matt Toomua strong form off the bench can be viewed in a similar vein.
“I think Matty’s just, like I said before, starting and finishing are two different roles, and like we said before, the beauty of sitting on the bench is you get to look at the game and Matty saw that flattening up and playing on top of them [Wales] with his hard running could potentially help the team and it did.
“He came on and really brought some direct play there. But like I said before, it’s just different for the finishers and we’re getting a lot of pay there; whoever wears whatever jersey they can do the job starting or finishing through the whole team.”
The Wallabies were the first side to win two World Cups and they’ll now have to write another chapter of tournament history to win from their position, given no team since 1987 has ever dropped a pool game and triumphed.
The loss means the Wallabies will likely now face England and New Zealand in the playoffs, pending victories in their last two pool games against Uruguay and Georgia.
With the necessary adjustments to their game, White said the Wallabies were focussing on their still un-realised potential at the World Cup.
“We know how we good we are, we’ve shown in the back half of games that if we can get that start right and not let teams getaway on us; as you said the potential is there,” White said.
“Our game’s looking really good but we’re just giving teams a leg-up early on. If we can sort that out, the feeling within the group is that we feel really good.
“I know that sounds silly coming after a loss there but there was a lot of confidence coming out of that we could be in control if we didn’t give away some points there which we kind of gave them a lot.
“We feel like we’re well and truly still in this and there’s a lot of confidence in there that if we touch up a few things, get the start right, it’s all there for us.”
Source: @Rugbycomau & @WorldRugby