McKenzie: Why I axed Genia
McKenzie: Why I axed GeniaSHARE
Australia's Ewen McKenzie took 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.
He also elevated six-Test back row forward 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.
McKenzie said it was tough to bench Genia, but also believed White had earned an opportunity to start against Argentina.
"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 scrumhalves in the international game.
He has turned matches in favour of Australia and the Reds, his Super Rugby franchise, with probing runs and intelligent tactical play.
"The fact that Will has captained his country shows what high regard we hold him in and while he is naturally disappointed I also know how competitive he is and I've got no doubts he will train himself to a standstill to bounce back as a better player," McKenzie said.
"We've spoken about what areas we believe he can continue to improve and evolve his game and he was receptive to going back and addressing those things.
"In the end, it wasn't an easy decision because he is undoubtedly a world class player.
"However, we also feel Nic has earned an opportunity to start and will add his own uniqueness and point of difference to how we want to play this game.
"Nic has had a great season with the Brumbies and has brought his own brand of energy and hard work to the Wallaby group.
"We've all been impressed by the contributions he has made to the team and in training and we now look forward to seeing him bring his skills to the fore of the pressure cooker on Saturday."
The 23-year-old White had a good season for the 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."