Will Genia has learned to his cost the dangers of underestimating Ireland and the Australia scrum-half believes the next generation of Wallabies are at no risk of making the same mistake as he did at the 2011 World Cup.
The Australians will welcome Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations Grand Slam winners to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane this Saturday for the opening contest of the first three-Test series between the two nations and for Genia this hometown clash should see the 30-year-old win his 89th Test after overcoming a knee injury.
It is a long time removed from September 17, 2011, when Genia was just two years into his Test career and paid little attention to Declan Kidney’s Ireland team due to face his Wallabies in a World Cup pool game at Eden Park in Auckland.
The scrum-half has more cause to remember what transpired, not least for being picked up and carried some distance by Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris in one of the standout moments of an excellent 15-6 victory for the Irish.
Genia is one the few survivors in Michael Cheika’s squad for this series alongside full-back Kurtley Beale, loosehead prop Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons, who was replacement lock in Auckland, while Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt can call on six players who featured in that famous first win over Australia in the Southern Hemisphere — starters Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, and replacements that evening Sean Cronin and Genia’s opposite number Conor Murray.
He barely gave them a thought back then but his attitude towards the Irish now is very different.
“Coming into this game, we cannot underestimate them at all. They are obviously number two in the world but more than that, just the level of rugby they have been playing is impressive.
“I have said it before, it is all about attrition with them. They are good at retaining possession but aside from that, you have got Sexton who can sit back in the pocket, you have Conor Murray, whose box kicking puts pressure on you. They have got a pretty good game but more than anything, they really understand their gameplan and execute it really well.”
Ireland, just two years removed from their 2009 Grand Slam success, were hardly unknowns at that World Cup but Genia has been most impressed by how much they improved since then.
Newly returned from France after a spell with Stade Francais but playing his Super Rugby this season with the Melbourne Rebels rather than his hometown franchise the Queensland Reds, Genia knows the younger members of the Wallabies squad have no excuse for the ignorance he displayed when he was younger.
“I think guys just know more now. Social media is a thing that has played a part in that. People take more of an interest now. They know the Sextons, the Murrays, the impacts they have had at club level, winning with Leinster and all that sort of stuff. There is no chance of us underestimating because people just know too much.”
Genia has a World Cup final appearance under his belt from 2015 along with another 10 of the current squad but the Test retirement of players such as Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper as well as veteran hooker Stephen Moore has led to some inconsistencies in form since that loss to the All Blacks at Twickenham three seasons ago.
“We have probably gone through a transition period where we have tried to introduce a lot of new players and regenerate the squad. “There have been 20 to 25 debutants in that time and Cheiks has settled on who his core group is and it is about moving forward through that. We have obviously had some disappointing performances but we feel we are heading in the right direction.”
Despite a morale-boosting victory over New Zealand last October, Genia believes Australia have to improve their game discipline if they are going to find success against the world number two-ranked Irish and goal-kicker Sexton this weekend.
“More than anything it creates pressure and puts you under pressure. It is something we have had problems with over the last couple of years, but we have got a few things we are going to try and put into the game.”
With the first two Tests in Brisbane and Melbourne nearly sold out and the house full signs set to go up in Sydney for the final contest on June 23, this series with Ireland has caught the imagination of Wallabies fans. Winning it would mean an awful lot as well.
“It would be huge,” Genia said. “To get the chance against the second-best team in the world three games in a row, it would be a huge thing to get a series win. And I guess it would be a big confidence booster for us to get heading into the Rugby Championship which is always tough. I don’t look at it as a chance to take the scalp of a Six Nations champion, I look at it as a chance to test yourself against a really good team. And you want to win. The accolades and all that, you don’t really care about that as much as you care about winning.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved