Tonight the career of Australian and former Queensland Reds scrumhalf Will Genia comes full circle. It was here at Suncorp Stadium, almost seven years to the day, that the then 21-year-old had his first Test start, also against tonight’s opponents, and notched up his first Test victory.
“My first Test against the Springboks was at Suncorp in 2009 . . . it’s a place with very special memories,” Genia said. “If I get the opportunity to play it will be incredibly special, not just for me but for my family. It has meant so much to us to have played here over the years.”
Suncorp was also where the Reds clinched the Super Rugby crown back in 2011, thanks largely to a stunning 60-metre break from scrumhalf Genia to break a 13-all deadlock 13 minutes from the end.
For Genia Brisbane will always be home and although he now lives and plays in Paris with glamour French club Stade Francais he’s loving being back in the city.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” he beams. “Obviously it’s home so it’s nice to come back here and catch up with family and visit familiar restaurants and cafes. It will always be home.”
The former Brisbane Boys College student and his team-mates have needed a lift after two sub-par performances against New Zealand. The losses have hit the team hard.
“It’s been very tough in terms of results,” concedes Genia, “and hard to take considering all the work we’d put in for the two Tests against the All Blacks. But having said that the mood is pretty positive in the sense that we still have that belief and that will to work hard and drive to succeed. The performances were disappointing but it hasn’t got us down too much.”
The 68-Test veteran has been one of the bright sparks for the Wallabies, returning to the form that saw him carry the Reds to the 2011 Super Rugby title. A searing 40-metre run in Wellington a fortnight ago saw him beat three All Blacks defenders in the type of break that won him renown a few years back as the world's best No. 9.
For Genia, it has been a slow process of recovery through 2016 after re-injuring his knee in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against Argentina last October.
“The issues with the knee were at the start of the year. I had surgery and since then my knee has come good,” he says. “The rehab work I’ve put in, and the dedication I’ve put toward wanting to get my body right has definitely paid off and for me I feel like I’m in a good head space and good shape physically as well to contribute to the team.”
That certainly showed in the Bledisloe Cup clashes against the All Blacks.
Tonight Genia matches up against one of the rising stars in World Rugby, South African scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, whom Genia rates highly.
“I watched the Lions’ run through Super Rugby and I’ve seen him play Test Rugby and I think he’s exceptional,” says Genia. “He’s got great pace, he’s very much a threat around that ruck area and looks to play people into space. I think the one thing I really enjoy about his game is he always adds that spark, that bit of speed, bit of pace to the game and he doesn’t shirk the work as well in defence.
“He’s very physical and I really enjoy watching him play. He’s well and truly on his way to becoming one of the best scrumhalves in the world.”
Rating de Klerk so highly, Genia was more than chuffed to discover that the new ’Bok No.9 sees him as one of his idols, modelling his game on Genia as a youngster.
“That’s incredibly humbling,” says Genia. “If I get the opportunity to play against him it will be pretty special knowing that.”
South Africa tonight present a very different challenge to New Zealand.
“I think everyone knows the All Blacks like to play an up-tempo style of Rugby – very fast, no real down time in terms of breaks within the game,” explains the now 28-year-old. “They like to keep the ball moving where the ’Boks are more physical and a bit more set-piece oriented. Certainly the times I’ve played them that’s been the case.”
Genia knows the ’Boks well. He has played South Africa 13 times in the past for eight wins and five losses, with three of those wins (2009, 2010 and 2015) and a solitary loss (2013) coming here at Suncorp. He crossed for one of his two tries against the ’Boks here in 2010.
His Test record in Brisbane also is in the positive column, winning five Tests (the three against South Africa and one each against Wales and New Zealand) and losing just two – against the Lions and the ’Boks, both in 2013.
After two big losses against New Zealand in recent weeks Genia says it’s vital the Wallabies bounce back with a good showing tonight.
“It’s incredibly important,” he says, “not just for us but for the fans, to restore a bit of faith and a bit of pride. Also to reward just some of the hard work that we feel we’ve put in. A lot of the hard work that probably doesn’t get seen . . . that isn’t getting seen in terms of our performances.”
Although he is always sad to leave Brisbane, Genia is looking forward to getting back to France and his new life on the continent.
“Absolutely love it,” he says. “My family and I really enjoy it. Something different, having been at the Reds for 10 seasons it’s good to go over there and live in a big city (Paris) and play different Rugby and really get amongst something new in terms of culture.
“It’s been an amazing change and we love it and really enjoy it and while it’s good to be back in Brissy it will also be good to go back to Paris and settle back down to what we for now consider our home.”
Hopefully he’ll be taking with him more fond memories of another Test victory in Brisbane tonight.
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