Will Genia's take on Wallabies halves combo: 'Both teams are much better sides when he's on'
With the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa set to properly get under way this weekend in Johannesburg, an equally as intriguing international series will commence just a matter of days later, as France kick off their two week tour of Australia at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane – the two teams set to meet for the first time since 2016.
Given the widespread disruption to the international rugby calendar caused by COVID-19 in 2020, this rejuvenated French side under head coach Fabien Galthié has not yet had the chance to test themselves against the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights, making for a truly tantalising prospect come July.
The exuberance and dynamism of France’s attack, combined with a structured and aggressive defence under Shaun Edwards, has brought large improvements to the team that limped to a three-nil test series defeat to the All Blacks back in 2018. Indeed, the rapid improvement of Les Bleus has seen them secure two consecutive second-place finishes in the Six Nations, only losing out in 2020 on points difference.
Galthié’s 42-man squad will be without some of its key personnel however, as with stringent quarantine restrictions, players from Top 14 finalists, Toulouse and La Rochelle, will be unavailable. Among this excluded group, the match-winning halfback pairing of Romain Ntamack and 2020 Six Nations player of the championship, Antoine Dupont.
Yet the fact that this current squad features 23 uncapped players by no means signals a lack of quality among the French ranks. England of course, in their narrow Autumn Nations Cup victory in 2020, were pushed extremely close by what many pundits viewed to be the French second or even third-string team. Thus, Galthié’s team look certain to expand upon their already substantial strength in depth as they build towards a home World Cup in 2023.
Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall, speaking on this week’s episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, noted Dupont’s quality was sure to be missed, but that the 24-year-old’s absence was not cause for total French concern.
“I think having that kind of player, who is arguably the best halfback in the world bar maybe Aaron Smith, with his running threat and his ability in big moments to be able to influence the game, it’s definitely going to be a loss for them,” commented Hall of Dupont. “But it opens up opportunities for other players.”
Ex-All Black hooker James Parsons echoed Hall’s positive opinions on the French prospects for their tour.
“It’s sort of a win-win for the French side,” said Parsons. “They haven’t got their big stars down here but … because there’s so many opportunities in this squad for the French, they’re going to be hungry, there’s going to be a lot of excitement and energy in that camp.”
Parsons in particular identified the real quality coming through the French ranks at youth level, with nearly a quarter of Galthié’s squad members of the French U20s sides that won back-to-back World Rugby U20 World Championships in 2018 and 2019.
Two of the three countries Lynagh is eligible for have been in contact in the last 2 weeks, but not England. https://t.co/gYxjKkVa76
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 28, 2021
“A lot of these players have come through that U20s environment,” remarked Parsons. “I feel that our expectation was a full squad to come down and be favorites, whereas this brings France in as the underdogs and the unknown. To look at where they want to get to for 2023 and the depth it can potentially create for them, I don’t see this tour being a losing situation for them … it’s a real win-win.”
Similarly, the youthful quality contained within Dave Rennie’s Wallabies side is cause for interest. Much like their French counterparts, the Wallabies have benefitted from a successful group of Australian U20s transitioning effectively to senior test level. Certainly, for former Wallabies centurion Will Genia, this test series in July presents a fantastic opportunity for Australian rugby after a tough Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
“I think for us as the Aussie team, we’re crucially coming into this series fresh, it’s in the middle of our season,” said Genia, a guest panellist on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “So everyone’s hungry for test rugby and everybody’s looking forward to it.”
Genia proved candid in regards to his old position of halfback and the youthful prospects being pushed up the pecking order in light of both Nic White’s recent knee injury and Jake Gordon’s MCL injury.
“I would say Nic White is comfortably the best halfback in Australia,” said Genia. “I think when he plays for the Wallabies and for the Brumbies, both teams are much better sides when he’s on … if Jake Gordon was right I would have gone with him [as a replacement] … but I don’t think you’d want to chuck Gordon straight into that first test coming off the back of injury.”
“I think Tate McDermott’s been excellent throughout Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman,” commented Genia. “So you’d want to give him an opportunity to continue to build on that momentum and build on that confidence … Ryan Lonergan is still pretty green, I think he’s only had a handful of starts for the Brumbies. So moving into the test, I’d probably go with Tate McDermott, give him the opportunity to play off the confidence that he’s built throughout the Super Rugby season.”
Injuries at standoff have also presented the opportunity for new combinations at nine and ten to develop for the Wallabies, with another 2019 Australian U20 graduate in Noah Lolesio potentially poised for a big series to both build his confidence and a key partnership with McDermott.
Eddie has issued a squad update: https://t.co/ytvuXXOJRM
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 28, 2021
“I love the fact that through injury they’re forced to play big minutes now,” said Genia. “The fact that they have to start and have to take control of the team, I think it’s an opportunity for them to build themselves into test match rugby, see if they can mix it at this level and understand things they need to work on to get better and to grow into being good test match players.”
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