White and Genia can't be split in fight for Wallabies no. 9 spot: Gregan

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies legend George Gregan says he “doesn’t care” which of Will Genia or Nic White starts in Australia’s World Cup opener against Fiji such is the closeness of the competition between the two.

Gregan, who has been working with Australia’s nines and 10s in camp ahead of the World Cup, said he couldn’t split Nic White and Will Genia when it came to picking a starting halfback for the Wallabies.

White started in both the Bledisloe Tests while Genia wore the no. 9 jersey in his Suncorp Stadium farewell against Argentina last month.

“The good thing about that is I don't really care who starts,” he said.

“They're both playing at such a high level and they have a really positive impact on the team, so I think that's one position where I don't think we lose anything whoever starts.

“I'm not too sure how (Michael Cheika) is going to select his team, if he takes three halfbacks but Joey Powell's been part of that group over the last few weeks as well and he's training well so I think that's a healthy place to be.”

Nic White has started in three Wallabies Tests so far in 2019. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyHowever that pair lines up in the pecking order, Gregan said he felt the Wallabies should take three halfbacks.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opted to take just two halfbacks and two hookers to the last World Cup, with Matt Giteau the possible third no. 9 option.

“Historically you do take three unless someone like a Matt Giteau who can sometimes float and play as a nine, but they don't have that with this squad,” Gregan said.

“History says, or shows, that most teams take three halfbacks because they're specialist positions, a bit like a hooker.

“But you might roll the dice - Michael Cheika doesn't mind rolling a dice from time to time - and maybe load up on your tight forwards, for example, load up on the props, it's up to him.

“I'm sure there'll be people ready to go (in case of injury) but I'd take three.”

The Wallabies name their World Cup squad on Friday and have just one more Test, against Samoa on September 7, before they depart for Japan.

Australia had a hot and cold Bledisloe series, beating the Kiwis 47-26 before going down 36-0 in Auckland but Gregan said he felt there was plenty of improvement still to come from the Wallabies.

“I think you've just seen through the course of the Rugby Championship, the first game and last game are examples of where I think the scoreline - we were outplayed by the All lacks - but the half-time wasn't 17-0 in my opinion anyway. That's what the scoreboard says but it was a very close game, it wasn't reflective of the score and I think that was pretty similar in the first Test when they played at Ellis Park.

"There's some definite improvement in this Wallaby team but that's a thing you've got to learn pretty quickly in a World Cup year - you don't get another year to think about it, it's all about that seven weeks.”

The Wallabies’ is no easy pool with Fiji first-up before they take on current world no. 1 side Wales, who headline a strong Norhern Hemisphere contingent this time around.

Gregan, though, played down the threat the defensive masters Wales would pose in a hot and humid Japan World Cup.

Warren Gatland will coach the Chiefs in 2020. Photo: Getty Images“I think you've seen with Wales, they've had a couple of victories against the Wallabies in recent times, they've always been tight Test matches,” he said.

“They're still to break their duck against the All Blacks but they're much improved - we know what Warren Gatland brings.

“He was the British and Irish Lions coach when the Lions beat Australia in Australia as well as drawing the series over there in New Zealand. They won't be intimidated by anyone.

“They're pretty comfortable with how they play, Wales, I just have my doubts whether or not the way that they play's going to be conducive to scoring a lot of points in a World Cup and the conditions in Japan will be very conducive to keeping the ball in hand and playing.”

The Wallabies open their Rugby World Cup campaign against Fiji on Saturday September 21, kicking off at 2:45pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel.