The Wallabies no longer have a golden glow but halfback great Will Genia believes they can still shine at the Rugby World Cup, saying Australia have more upside than other contenders.
- Wallabies legend Will Genia says Australia will benefit from a “fearless” group of young players
- Genia says that the Wallabies can fly under the radar and that not many people are giving them any hope
- Australia opens its World Cup campaign on Sunday at 2am (AEST) against Georgia
Pundits have written off Australia’s chances of lifting aloft a third William Webb Ellis trophy in France — and with good reason with the team winless in five Tests in 2023.
Replacing coach Dave Rennie with Eddie Jones — in his second World Cup as Wallabies coach after reaching the final in 2003 — hasn’t yielded immediate results.
Jones has also made some shock selections — most notably leaving out long-time skipper Michael Hooper and veteran five-eighth Quade Cooper — to bank on a side that only includes eight players with World Cup experience.
But Genia, who played 110 Wallabies Tests and was part of three World Cup campaigns, sees positives in the changes.
He said the young players — 20 of the 33-man squad are aged 26 or under — were fearless, carrying no baggage from years of losses.
The former Queensland stalwart, now playing in Japan, said he could see plenty of growth in the Wallabies, who play Georgia in their first pool game in Paris on Sunday (AEST).
- Follow all the action on Sunday with the ABC Sport live blog from 1:30am AEST
“It’s going to be tough but the fact that not really anyone’s giving them hope is probably a good thing because they can fly under the radar and just focus on themselves,” Genia told AAP.
“Because in my experience with World Cups, it seems and it sounds really simple, but it’s the teams that improve week to week that will do well.
“You find better cohesion, you get more confident, you do things better, you’re more accurate, more physical as the tournament goes on.
“And if they can make it to the semifinal, it’s about who turns up on the day.”
Genia likes that Jones has opted for genuine size in his pack and also selected a new captain in lock Will Skelton.
The France-based giant is a proven winner, which has been sadly missing from Australian Super Rugby players with New Zealand dominating that competition.
“I really like that big Willy Skelton is the skipper because he’s someone who’s won everything there is to win in European rugby, which you’d say is the highest level of competition outside of Test rugby,” 35-year-old Genia said.
“And he’s not just being a passenger in those teams, I think he’s won man of the match in a couple of the finals that he’s played in so he’s a winner.
“He understands what it takes to win, not just on the field but in terms of performance, in terms of culture, so he will lead what Eddie wants to create, in terms of a winning mindset or winning culture.
“And he’s also just a really good team man — he’s always positive, he’s very solution-focused and he’s not someone who dwells on things that are going wrong. He looks at how to fix it.”
Genia was disappointed to see his old halves partner and great friend Cooper left out, feeling he would have offered valuable security and support to rookie playmaker Carter Gordon on and off the field.
But he said on the flip-side Jones had removed the “safety net” and backed Gordon and young halfback Tate McDermott to make the team their own.
“It’s about trusting them — without Quade, Eddie has said there is no safety net — this is your team and you drive it and that will hopefully accelerate Carter’s growth.
“I really like the look of Tate and Carter as they’re both instinctive players who like playing attacking football and with the forward pack we’ve got, we can get good ascendancy or at least parity and then Tate and Carter can really drive the team and get some positive results.”
Genia feels hosts France, who have never won a World Cup, will be hard to stop, particularly if they down New Zealand in the tournament’s opening pool game.
But he said Australia, with a hugely favourable draw, should have confidence they can cause a boilover.
“There’s no doubt that they all have belief that they’ll win the World Cup and then they should,” he said.
“The team Eddie has selected, it’s a good balance of flair and exuberance and excitement but also power, particularly in the forward pack.
“I’m really excited to see what they can do with the confidence Eddie has shown in them.”