Genia benched in massive McKenzie gamble
PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia’s Ewen McKenzie has taken the biggest gamble of his short and winless international coaching career by dropping scrumhalf Will Genia to the bench for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test against Argentina and elevating six-test back rower Ben Mowen to the Wallabies captaincy.
Genia, who stood in as captain for injured lock James Horwill in last week’s 38-12 loss to South Africa, lost his spot to Nic White, who has made two test appearances as a replacement.
The selection change, confirmed Wednesday, appeared to make Genia a scapegoat for Australia’s four consecutive losses despite playing behind a back-peddling forward pack, distributing to a misfiring backline and pairing with three different starting flyhalves in six tests.
“We are at the pointy end of Australian rugby and we want a competitive environment,” McKenzie said. “Will’s an outstanding player. He’d admit he hasn’t been at the peak of his game of late. But he’ll respond as he already has in training. He’s out there pushing himself hard, and he’ll continue to do that.”
The 25-year-old Genia has 46 test caps and is widely considered among the best halfbacks in international rugby. He has turned matches in favor of Australia and the Queensland Reds, his Super Rugby province, with probing runs and intelligent tactical play.
His demotion came after McKenzie said Australia was over-complicating its game plan, yet he kept noted freewheeler Quade Cooper at flyhalf.
In the only other change to Australia’s starting lineup, tighthead prop Ben Alexander replaces Sekope Kepu in the front row.
Ordinarily Australia would be expected to beat Argentina on home soil and give McKenzie his first win since replacing Robbie Deans as coach.
But the manner of last week’s capitulation, when Australia conceded three tries in nine minutes midway through the second half to lose a test to the Springboks in Brisbane for the first time since 1971, suggests an Argentina victory is a strong possibility. Also of concern is the fact that the Wallabies have lost five of their past six tests and Perth is not a rugby stronghold.
Both Argentina and Australia are bidding for their first win in the tournament. Australia’s loss to South Africa followed back-to-back defeats to New Zealand.
The Pumas opened with a 73-13 away loss to the Springboks but rallied to push South Africa all the way in a narrow defeat at home. They’re coming into the match following a 28-13 loss to New Zealand and have retained the bulk of the forward pack which tested the All Blacks in Hamilton. The only change was Agustin Creevey at hooker in place of Eusebio Guinazu.
Argentina has a reworked backline with scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli making his first start of the tournament in place of Martin Landajo, Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Tiesi promoted to starting roles in the midfield and winger Juan Imhoff replacing the injured Gonzalo Camacho.
Argentina has not beaten the Wallabies since an 18-16 win in Buenos Aires in 1997, and it has been 30 years since their only win over the Wallabies in Australia.
The 23-year-old White had a good season for the ACT Brumbies, helping the Canberra-based club reach the Super Rugby final, and is not concerned about being thrust into the starting No. 9 role after such a short international apprenticeship. He said Genia had already helped him settle into the team.
“He’s not only offered advice, he’s also given me two pairs of boots,” White said. “We’ve got a pretty good friendship.”
Australia: James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (captain), Nic White, Quade Cooper, Nick Cummins, Christian Leali’ifano, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Israel Folau. Reserves: Saia Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani.
Argentina: Juan Martin Hernandez, Horacio Agulla, Gonzalo Tiesi, Felipe Contepomi, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Julio Farias Cabello, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Agustin Creevy, Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Eusebio Guinazu, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Benjamin Macome, Martin Landajo, Santiago Fernandez, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.