Brisbane Australia – If there's one thing Will Genia has already proven this season it's that he's not a George Gregan clone. The Wallabies scrumhalf has been making his own mark on the game.
The comparisons with 139-Test former Wallabies captain Gregan have declined considerably as this season has progressed, with the 23-year-old Genia instrumental in helping the Queensland Reds and Australia to some milestone victories.
His direct approach has been the ideal counterbalance in a fruitful partnership with Queensland Reds and Australia playmaker Quade Cooper, who has at times captivated even seasoned observers with his eye-popping, unorthodox style of play.
On two pivotal moments, though, when titles have been on the line, it has been Genia who has produced sparks of genius with ball in hand to turn the course of a competition.
His solo, 65-metre try in the Super 15 final in July broke a 13-all deadlock and was pivotal in helping Queensland beat the Canterbury Crusaders to win its first Super rugby title in the professional era.
Genia scored an early try as Australia raced to a 20-3 lead over the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations decider last weekend but it was his break -astutely using referee Wayne Barnes as a shield as he scampered up field from behind a ruck - to create a try for Kurtley Beale in the 61st minute that proved to be the significant momentum changer.
New Zealand, which had scored 17 unanswered points to level the match, didn't get another good scoring opportunity after that and went down 25-20, giving Australia its first Tri-Nations title in a decade.
“It makes my job a lot easier when the boys work outside me. Credit has to go to the runners outside to create that space,” Genia said in understated post-match reflection. “Just grateful to be in the right place at the right time.”
Asked if he can add a World Cup to that collection, Genia replied simply: “Let's hope so. Who knows?”
Genia is small for a modern professional rugby player at 174
centimeters (5-foot-8) and 85 kilograms (188 pounds), but he makes up for it with his strength, nous and skill. The son of a Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister in Papua New Guinea, Genia didn't start playing rugby until he moved to Australia for high school.
Away from his family for long periods while at a boarding school in Brisbane, he found plenty of time for practice and it started paying off with selection in age group representative teams.
Despite being a backup player at the Reds in 2009, he was drafted into the Wallabies squad and has sice made the starting No. 9 jersey virtually his own.
He had a rough week in the leadup to the Tri-Nations win in Brisbane, twice being forced off the training field after collisions with big forwards. He copped a stray elbow from roommate Radike Samo that required six stitches, then was left dizzy after an encounter with lock Rob Simmons two days before the match.
After laughing off headlines predicting gloom and doom if he didn't play and amid mounting hype about the clash, Genia took a no-nonsense attitude to the game.
“Sometimes we get caught up with saying too much and talking about it too much rather than just going out and doing it,” he said.
And that's exactly what he did. He doesn't tend to make grandiose statements and definitely likes to let his performances do the talking. He's a frequent winner of the man-of-the-match awards and is pivotal for Australia, not only as the link between backs and forwards.
For Genia, it boils down to an innate feel for when to go himself and when to feed a backline that takes almost every opportunity to run.
“Will finds his No. 10 with a good pass. He has authority and he leads. It's the strength of his running that dominates in the game the way it is (now) played,” Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said. “I see Will as a playmaker in his own right.”
High-profile halves pairings have contributed heavily to both of Australia's World Cup titles.
The well-heeled combination of Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh at Nos. 9 and 10 was crucial to Australia's win in the 1991
World Cup, while Gregan's partnership with flyhalf Stephen Larkham was instrumental in the 1999 World Cup victory and a run to the final in 2003, which Australia lost in extra time to England.
And there's no doubt Australia's chances in 2011 hinge on Genia and Cooper, even if they're still only a couple of seasons into their partnership.
The seemingly extrasensory combination between Genia and Cooper was the driving force behind the Reds jump from next-to-last in the Super rugby standings to champions within three seasons shrugging off plenty of doubters along the way.
Farr-Jones considers Genia to be at the top of the game.
“Will Genia, we all know is without doubt the best scrumhalf in the world, but I'd say leading into the World Cup, along with (All Blacks flyhalf) Dan Carter he is the most valuable player that any team has,” Farr-Jones said. “If I woke and found out that Genia had a tournament-ending injury then I'd almost give up on the Wallabies' hopes - he is that good.”
Larkham also thinks Genia is the key to it.
“Quade Cooper has been given a lot of kudos. ... Fair enough, but he has been given that freedom in many ways by Will playing so well inside him,” Larkham said last month. “That combination at No. 9 and No. 10 is crucial and these two guys are very impressive.
“Will is a great asset in what the Wallabies can achieve with the way he manages the forwards - he also runs the ball better than anyone in Australian rugby.” – Sapa-AP