For Will Genia, it must feel like the Lions have a limitless supply of top-quality scrum-halves lining up to try to negate his influence on this series.
In the first Test match in Brisbane, Genia, widely regarded as the best No 9 in the world, had to go up against Welshman Mike Phillips in what proved an intriguing and evenly matched tussle. Now, the Papua New Guinean-born half-back will take on England’s Ben Youngs in the second Test in Melbourne while Ireland’s Conor Murray, another man in great form, will await his chance from the Lions’ bench. “I think they are really spoilt for choice in the three half-backs they have,” Genia said yesterday. “They are all high-quality players.”
It would be understandable of Genia to be jealous of the tourists’ strength in depth as he is likely to have to play every minute of every Test as the gap in class between the 25-year-old and his understudy, Nick Phipps, is too large to contemplate for many Australian rugby fans.
The Wallabies were edged out 23-21 in the Brisbane Test, and Australia’s fly-half James O’Connor struggled for impact as the back line imploded with injuries, but Genia continued calmly to direct traffic amid the chaos. The Queensland Red set up his side’s first try with a dash down the right wing, holding the ball up to wait for support before dribbling a perfectly placed kick into the path of winger Israel Folau.
The Lions coach, Warren Gatland, said he was resting Phillips after the experienced scrum-half emerged from Lang Park with a sore knee. Many have speculated that the move – along with the promotion to the starting XV of the flanker Dan Lydiate – is as much about stopping Genia as keeping the squad fresh, but the Wallaby disagreed. “As it’s been said by Warren Gatland, their changes have been based on form,” Genia said. “I don’t see it as shutting any one particular player down, they’ve just been playing good rugby and they’ve been rewarded.”
Unlike Phillips, Youngs would offer a bit more attack-based play and seek to stretch the Wallabies’ defence on the flanks. “Ben Youngs is probably a bit more of an attacking player, he likes to get out of the rucks and in the many times he has done for England he scoots out, and he’s got the ability to put players through holes and hold up defenders to create space out wide,” Genia said. “We’ve watched him all tour. He’s been rewarded with an opportunity. We’ll have to work hard to nullify him.”
If Genia and Co succeed in blunting the Lions’ attacking edge, the Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans, knows the home side’s best chance of victory lies in getting the ball in the hands of Folau, who was making his Australia debut last weekend. “You want the most damaging blokes getting as many touches as possible,” Deans said. “We have to work on that collectively. It was very important for Izzy [to play well in Brisbane]. It was a cauldron he was entering. There was a lot of discussion about his selection, so it was important to get off to a flyer and he did that.”
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