I remember it like it was yesterday, when then-Wallabies Coach Ewen McKenzie dropped the man regarded as the best halfback in the world, Will Genia, for Australia’s final home Test of 2013 in favour of in-form Brumbies number 9, Nic White.
Will admits himself, that he wasn’t playing well at the time and his confidence had taken a battering after the Wallabies had been marched on by the All Blacks and Springboks on the back of a humiliating third Test defeat to the British & Irish Lions.
After watching the Argentina Test from the sidelines, he played a short cameo from the bench against the Springboks in Cape Town and regained his job for the Spring Tour later that year.
At the time, it appeared that’s where the story would end. Less than six months later he was wiped officially when he missed out on selection for the 2014 June Series against France. It was the first time he had missed a Wallabies squad since his 2009 debut.
To this day the decision to axe Genia still astounds me. He was the only player in the Australian team who would have made a World XV, but he had come off major knee surgery and was showing signs that the wear and tear of shouldering the load week in, week out at Super Rugby and Test level was catching up with him. It also came on the back of a disastrous campaign for the Reds, as the memory of their 2011 title had long since faded while they crashed to a 12th-place finish.
Genia would then go on to miss an entire year of Test footy before eventually being handed a reprieve by Michael Cheika when he took over the team for the 2014 Spring Tour.
Had it not been for Cheika, one of Australian Rugby’s greatest assets may have been lost forever. Keep in mind, this was only three years after one of our other national treasures, Matt Giteau, was unceremoniously dumped ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup by Robbie Deans.
Watching both Genia and Giteau during Australia’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign made you realise that the treatment of these players in the past were crimes of Australian Rugby.
We have an enormous challenge in Australia to develop and retain our own talent, especially when it comes to the players I call our “threads of gold” - the world class players who come along only a few times in a generation.
Nothing has pleased me more than seeing Genia return to the peak of his powers this winter. He has been Australia’s most influential player after finding his groove again on the back of another injury setback. At 28, he is our most important player as we build towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
I also believe we should be doing everything in our power to bring him back to Australia from France, where he has a year left to run on his contract with Stade Francais.
This season we’ve seen a couple of players who have dropped in form and you can only wonder if they had been managed more effectively earlier in the year, whether we might have seen more from them in the Wallabies jersey throughout this campaign.
Scott Fardy is one player who jumps out. He was one of Australia’s stars at the World Cup in England and proved during that tournament that he is a world class number six.
After playing a full Super Rugby season on the back of that World Cup campaign he looked sluggish during the June Series and eventually lost his starting job.
I want to stress that by singling out Fardy, I’m not having a shot at him or his performances. As a player he is giving it his all each and every time takes the field and is still, in my view, one of the best players in the world at his position. At 32, he is no spring chicken, and my point is that we need to manage the load on those senior players towards the back end of their careers.
New Zealand have been very effective in the past at managing their elite players as their careers have worn on, with Dan Carter and Richie McCaw the two obvious examples.
Watching the resurgence of Genia and others proves that you need to have your best players fit and firing for your biggest matches. As a game we need to protect and nurture our greatest assets, rather than look back with regrets.The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.