x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The genius of Genia ruins Wilkinson's comeback

Signalling his emergence as a world-class scrum-half, Genia orchestrates Australia's successful defence of the Cook Cup.

Will Genia of Australia is hauled down by Tom Croft of England at Twickenham yesterday.
Will Genia of Australia is hauled down by Tom Croft of England at Twickenham yesterday.

Will Genia signalled his emergence as a world-class scrum-half to a northern hemisphere audience for the first time last night as he orchestrated Australia's successful defence of the Cook Cup. The Papua New Guinea-born No 9 may be struggling to keep up with his senior colleagues in the bid to grow the best moustache for Movember, but he was head and shoulders ahead of everyone else on the field at Twickenham.

Genia, 21, first prompted suggestions Australia may have finally found a suitable heir to George Gregan, their great scrum-half, during their poor run in this year's Tri Nations. His display in the win over England drew platitudes from those who know best, but his half-back partner Matt Giteau refused to compare him with Test rugby's most-capped player. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him, as George Gregan is a legend in the game and a legend in Australia," said Giteau. "But Willie is a great player and showed how talented he is here."

Genia scored the opening try for the Australians, who ended their barren recent run with a comfortable victory over a makeshift England. Adam Ashley-Cooper settled the debate when he barrelled over in the corner midway through the second half. "He is not one for the future, he's arrived already," the former England scrum-half, Dewi Morris, said of Genia. "Is he really 21?" queried Stuart Barnes, the former England stand-off, who then compared the Queensland Reds scrum-half to the great Wallabies No 9 from their grand slam side of 1984. "He could be Nick Farr-Jones."

Genia and his teammates ruined what was otherwise a successful return to international rugby for Jonny Wilkinson. England's fly-half was playing his first autumn international in seven years. He has been so infrequently spotted in the meantime that those with short memories might have been questioning what the advertising billboard bearing his face were getting at. "Sorry Jonny, no one has tackled as many men as us," is the slogan of the shaving product he endorses, but did his best to disprove that yesterday.

He was a rock in the England defence, and it was only a result of his two tackles just before half-time that his side held a half-time lead. England had dominated the early exchanges, yet only had Giteau's errant boot to thank for the one-point lead they held after 20 minutes. Wilkinson had given them an early lead with a penalty and a drop-goal, but Genia hit back with a try. Giteau missed the conversion and Wilkinson was able to extend the lead to 9-5 soon after. However, Australia's fly-half chipped away at the lead, and the victory was secured by Ashley-Cooper.

It meant a triumphant start to Australia's grand slam tour of the UK, but Giteau said it was early days to be contemplating four victories. "It is definitely possible but not something we have talked about yet," said Giteau, whose side had suffered six defeats from seven games ahead of the tour, including a hefty defeat sevens days earlier to the All Blacks in Japan. "We were close in every game of the Tri Nations bar one and let it slip, and there was a lot of talk about how disappointed we had been. We kicked a lot better and the line-out functioned a lot better than it has done. England tried to attack and opened us up a couple of times. It was never comfortable." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae

New Zealand extended their domination of Wales with a 19-12 victory at the Millennium Stadium to make it 21 successive victories against them going back to 1953. There was little between the teams in a cagey first half as two penalties apiece for Dan Carter and Stephen Jones saw them reach level at 6-6 at the breather. New Zealand took command after the break and, after another penalty for Carter, they pulled clear when hooker Andrew Hore charged over for the only try of the game. The conversion and a further penalty for Carter took New Zealand 19-6 ahead and left the fly-half one point behind Andrew Mehrtens (967) as the All Blacks' all-time leading scorer. Two more Jones penalties brought Wales back within seven but, despite a late flurry, New Zealand held on.