Will Genia the prince of halfbacks, but Gregan is still king

Cam Avery Roar Guru

By Cam Avery, Cam Avery is a Roar Guru

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    David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, Joost van der Westhuizen, George Gregan, Matt Dawson, Fourie du Preez, Piri Weepu. If you are a rugby aficionado, you will understand what all these names have in common.

    If you haven’t quite worked it out yet, they are the names of all the starting halfbacks for winning Rugby World Cup sides.

    Of those names, perhaps Piri Weepu’s is the only one that can’t be counted as a great for his respective nation.

    Certainly in the instance of Farr-Jones, van der Westhuizen and Gregan you are talking about three of the all time greats of the world game.

    The number nine now is arguably the most important position on the field.

    It is the player that provides the link between the backs and forwards and the player that controls the tempo of the game.

    A good halfback has the ability to put the ball out in front of the attacking player allowing the runner to take the ball at speed or hit a half gap.

    A good halfback will threaten the line and will make defensive sides pay if they drift too quickly from the breakdown.

    And now with the new five second rule introduced to rucks, giving the number nine less time to think, having a good halfback is more valuable then ever.

    I saw two quite contrasting performances this weekend in Super Rugby.

    The first, on Friday night, a masterclass from Will Genia where he probed, passed, kicked and marshalled his troops, all with incredible accuracy.

    Ultimately Genia was the difference between the two sides and showed just how important he will be to the Wallabies chances in the forthcoming Lions series.

    Contrast this with Piri Weepu’s performance on Saturday night. I was at the stadium at Mount Maunganui for the Blues versus Chiefs game where I watched Weepu closely throughout.

    I was taken aback by just how poor his pass was, laboured and loopy at best, and by how little he was barking out instructions to his forwards.

    I would have thought given the Blues lack of experience, Weepu would have been a key general on the field but I was sadly disappointed.

    I have always been a strong advocate of Weepu over the years, but having seen his play first hand over the past two weekends, I don’t think I can defend his selection in the Black jersey any longer.

    Of course a good rugby side needs more than just a good number nine, but one that has one will always have an advantage over one that doesn’t given the influence the position exerts over a game.

    And the greatest halfback I have ever seen play the game? Well for me, it is simple, no one is close to the great George Gregan.

    I am a Kiwi who along with many other Kiwi rugby fans, bayed for Gregan’s blood during Bledisloe fixtures over the years, cursed his name when he made that tackle on Wilson in 1994 and who suffered greatly upon the great mans taunting of “four more years boys” in the 2003 Rugby World Cup semifinal.

    Gregan to New Zealand rugby was what Fitzpatrick and McCaw were and are to Australian and South African Rugby.

    These players are almost despised outside of their country but ultimately this comes out of complete respect for their ability as well as jealousy that they’re not playing in their teams. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment.

    Roarers, who would be your greatest number nine?

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    The Crowd Says (147)

    • April 1st 2013 @ 10:17am
      nickoldschool said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:17am | ! Report

      Have always had a soft spot for south Africans nines so Joost and du Preez for me.

      I think if you put Weepu up there Justin Marshall deserves a spot too. in France, although we have never had good tens, I reckon our nines are among the best. Yachvili and Parra in the last decade, Galthie before. As a kid, Berbizier and Gallion did impress me but it was another era.

      • April 1st 2013 @ 3:29pm
        HighTackle said | April 1st 2013 @ 3:29pm | ! Report


        • April 1st 2013 @ 6:23pm
          HighTackle said | April 1st 2013 @ 6:23pm | ! Report

          I dont expect anyone to agree but I feel that TKB has the potential to be an Australian great, albeit in NZ colours. I know its debatable if he is an Australian but Im of the belief that if you are born and spend the first 13 years of your life somewhere, you are from there.
          For me he has all the skills, his pass is very good and he has the ability to dive pass, spiral and float passes like a league dummy half better than almost anyone. He is good in defence, pilfers well and has x factor written all over him. Also he has a guy like Wayne Smith as a mentor and Leonard pushing him.
          For me, he will be the one to challenge Genia as yhe worlds best in the next few years.
          At the mo Genia is the best and Pienaar, Phillips, Youngs and Parra are in the persuing bunch. All have their strengths.

          • April 1st 2013 @ 6:56pm
            nickoldschool said | April 1st 2013 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

            Talking about scrum-halves, France’s Jean-Pierre Elissalde (played long time ago, never saw him but we know his son Jean baptiste) has admitted taking banned substances (amphetamines) during his playing days.

            Big news there as the equivalent of ASADA said last week rugby was (in france) the sport with the most cases of doping ( i think they got 5-6 for cannabis and 2 for strong substances, in lower divisions). anyway big controversy with now JP Elissalde saying he took amphet a couple of times more than 30 years ago…

            I like your list HT (maybe also Laidlaw the scot?) and yes, TKB is at least partially aussie!!!

            • April 1st 2013 @ 7:29pm
              HighTackle said | April 1st 2013 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

              Yeah and Kahn from Samoa.

            • April 3rd 2013 @ 2:36am
              ScrumJunkie said | April 3rd 2013 @ 2:36am | ! Report

              I think you’d find a few who would test positive for cannabis in the lower grades in Australia if they bothered to check, not just in rugby.

      • April 2nd 2013 @ 9:06pm
        Gobbler said | April 2nd 2013 @ 9:06pm | ! Report


        Marshall never won a World Cup. If you read it properly, you would understand why he mentioned Weepu

      • April 9th 2013 @ 1:56pm
        BetterRedThanDead said | April 9th 2013 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        Spot on Nick – Joost VDW was the business and the best I have ever seen play at 9;. Loved Nick Farr-Jones also but Gregan, IMHO, does not rate as highly as Genia will ultimately. Does not help that Gregan hung on a few seasons too many and long after his best form had deserted him.

        Gareth Edwards a legend but before my time so cannot comment

    • April 1st 2013 @ 10:24am
      USRugbyFan said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      Joost van der Westhuizen and Fourie du Preez are two of the greats of the modern game. Van der Westhuizen played and excelled in both the amateur and pro era, while du Preez is one of the greatest tacticians currently taking the field, as well as having the best pass I’ve ever seen from a #9. Although not in their class, Agustin Pichot from Argentina was a key cog in the Puma teams he played in, and was probably their heart and soul and most important players during their 2007 RWC campaign.

      • Roar Guru

        April 1st 2013 @ 10:27am
        jeznez said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Yeah, Joost was awesome and Pichot was the other guy I was going to mention.

        The author singles out Piri but does anyone else think that Dawson is fortunate to be named in the same group as these guys?

        • April 1st 2013 @ 11:37am
          Atawhai Drive said | April 1st 2013 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          Well, he was the starting halfback in a World Cup-winning side, which was the criterion for inclusion.

          But he wouldn’t figure in many people’s list of great halfbacks.

          • April 1st 2013 @ 3:25pm
            Jerry said | April 1st 2013 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

            Nor would Matt Dawson.

            Genia has shown some great play at times, but has struggled at test level a fair bit, so I’m not gonna start raving about his performances for the Reds.

        • April 2nd 2013 @ 12:39am
          Bakkies said | April 2nd 2013 @ 12:39am | ! Report

          Peri Weepu is overrated. Dawson was underrated. He was instrumental in the Lions Series win in ’97. The English similar to Aussies liked to complain about Dawson but when he retired and was replaced by slow scatter gun meerkats, they then realised how good he was. He had a play making/running game which allowed Wilkinson to play field position in the big tests. Was their most dangerous back after Robinson as he was suited to broken play. Referees allowed him to take quick taps ahead of the mark which annoyed me no end (along with the blocking from players like Dallaglio that allowed Robinson to scoot through gaps).

          • April 3rd 2013 @ 4:11am
            Ben.S said | April 3rd 2013 @ 4:11am | ! Report

            I think Dawson was overrated. He was fortunate to be playing behind an excellent England pack, and one of THE great back rows. His pass wasn’t all that, and his decision making was erratic. I think it was proven beyond doubt that Rob Howley was a class above him on the 2001 Lions tour. Dawson, and also that Dawson only started in the Test series in 1997 as Howley had dislocated his shoulder.

            Rob Howley should definitely be up there.

    • April 1st 2013 @ 10:24am
      Ajax said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      I always liked Piri actually, but father time catches up with everyone, cest la vie. Justin Marshall was a super player as well. Joost, possibly the best out of all of them.

      Will Genia, well he is getting close to the Gregans and Farr Jones’s now isnt he. Wonderful performance on Saturday, and its remarkable how much better Quade Cooper plays when the little magician is on form.

      • April 1st 2013 @ 12:08pm
        Colvin said | April 1st 2013 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        If you let Genia play he will take over. That’s what happened against the Highlanders who’s loose forwards didn’t seem to be up with the play. He had far too much space.

        The AB’s have a gameplan to put him under pressure because if you can do that you can shut down the WBs at source.

        Genia’s a great and to contain him opposition have to get on top of his forwards.

        It’s all pretty simple in theory; harder in practice.

    • Roar Guru

      April 1st 2013 @ 10:32am
      jeznez said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:32am | ! Report

      Just a comment on Gregan – he started out awesome and played at that high level for a long time but I think he played about four seasons too long. He stopped running himself, stopped being the defensive weapon he had been and started hovering over the ball.

      His first seven years as a Wallaby were great but his memory for mine will always be tainted to him staying longer than he should have – not his fault of course it was up to the selectors and his challengers to remove him.

      • April 1st 2013 @ 10:40am
        nickoldschool said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

        Completely agree with that jez. On one hand I think he should have been ‘professional’ enough to retire from the wallabies much earlier but to be fair, his challengers were not of the highest standard either.

        That might explain why he stayed for so long.

      • Columnist

        April 1st 2013 @ 10:51am
        David Lord said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        Cam, Wallaby half-back ratings in my lifetime – Ken Catchpole (1), Nick Farr-Jones (2), Will Genia (3), John Hipwell (4), Des Connor (5), George Gregan (6).

        • April 1st 2013 @ 11:14am
          Cam Avery said | April 1st 2013 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Interesting David. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to see the likes of Ken Catchpole and a few others. Genia certainly great but surely overall greatness can only be achieved through longevity and achieving things throughout a career, something Genia has yet to really do. Time is on his side though!

        • April 1st 2013 @ 11:57am
          Colvin said | April 1st 2013 @ 11:57am | ! Report


          I read on Roar that you were going back to cricket.

        • Roar Guru

          April 1st 2013 @ 2:31pm
          sheek said | April 1st 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

          Gidday David,

          I would agree with you except I’m not sure Genia deserves such a high rating – yet!

          We all know how form can rise & fall over time. Often it’s best to make a definitve assessment on a player when his career is over. But it’s fair to say he’s in the top 6 since WW2.

          I agree Gregan doesn’t deserve a higher rating. He was a great rugby player, not necessarily a great scrumhalf.

          But you’re a guy with 60-odd years of first-hand experinece behind you, & that must be greatly respected.

          • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:40am
            Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:40am | ! Report

            Shrek you must be old if you are comparing halfbacks back to WW2

        • April 1st 2013 @ 3:18pm
          Malo said | April 1st 2013 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

          Yeah did not see ken Catchpole but I think Nick Farr Jones then Genia are streaks ahead of Gregan. Gregan was great for about 3 years. i actually thought Chris Whitaker got a raw deal I thought he was good.

          • April 2nd 2013 @ 5:05pm
            Red Block said | April 2nd 2013 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

            Hear,hear! It was sad to watch Whits lose his hair, sitting on the bench when his form was way better than Gregan’s. I’m from the Campo school as far as Gregan goes, ‘he lived off one tackle for his whole career’.

            • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:39am
              Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:39am | ! Report

              Gregan was a joke the last two years and just got picked because he was paid so much. Not on form. I was also a fan of Sam Payne.

        • April 1st 2013 @ 11:44pm
          Rabbits said | April 1st 2013 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

          David, you’re back. Thought you left us for the CA position. I’m so happy, I think I’m going g to cry.

      • April 1st 2013 @ 11:39am
        Renee Matey said | April 1st 2013 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        Too true. At his peak Gregan was one of our greatest ever, but should have stopped around a hundred tests. My memories of his last couple of years were less zip, ponderous service and an infuriating habit of playing for penalties not the whistle. I think Genia is at a similar stage that George was at (without ‘that’ tackle) and hope he’ll know when to hang the boots up.
        Never saw Catchpole play, but from all accounts he was special until his leg was treated like a chicken bone by bully-boy Meads.

        • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:45am
          Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:45am | ! Report

          Genia is way more important than Gregan to the wallabies. Gregan had a great pack and a great backline, Genia does not that is why he is way superior without Genia we are shite

          • April 3rd 2013 @ 3:38am
            Bakkies said | April 3rd 2013 @ 3:38am | ! Report

            I would love to see Gregan and Larkham operate behind the current Wallabies pack that is able to deliver between 50-60% possession compared to the poor 30 to 40% they were living off. Never mind the pathetic scrum that David Lyons was mopping up.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 1st 2013 @ 7:49pm
        Die hard said | April 1st 2013 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

        I think the captaincy went to his head. He never seemed the same after that. He was done no favors in following Eales who was one of the greatest captains. I can’t remember being unhappy at his selection the last half dozen years, as an All Black supporter of course. The memorie of the last years overwhelm the earlier glories I’m afraid.

      • April 2nd 2013 @ 12:32am
        Bakkies said | April 2nd 2013 @ 12:32am | ! Report

        In those last 4 years of his Gregan’s test career he played behind some rubbish packs that didn’t deliver clean ball. You watch him in games where his pack was on top and he was very slick. As for running why over play your hand when you have S Larkham at 10

        • Roar Guru

          April 2nd 2013 @ 12:48am
          jeznez said | April 2nd 2013 @ 12:48am | ! Report

          Bakkies, I think we’ve had this chat before. Whitaker played behind beaten packs for the Tahs and was much better at dealing with dirty ball during that period. Gregan played behind some excellent Brumbies packs and was slick as you say. Unfortunately at Wallaby level as you note our pack was usually on the receiving end and we needed someone who could deal with that.

          Cleaning up messy ball and clearing it quickly is a skill and very noticeably in those last four years Gregan did not do that well in that aspect of his game.

          • April 2nd 2013 @ 1:07am
            Bakkies said | April 2nd 2013 @ 1:07am | ! Report

            Tahs had a decent backrow at Super level with Elsom, Mowen, Hoiles, Waugh, Lyons in various squads. Vickermann, Harrison, Cannon, Dunning were good tight 5 Super Rugby players. No real noted 9/10 combo there in his time. The Brumbies in comparison had tight 5 players playing like backs. Not cleaning out and hitting rucks. Super Rugby had evolved after the Brumbies in title in ’04 packs had to play tighter Rugby.

            Gregan often had a one man back row in the Wallabies protecting him with George Smith doing the work of 3 players around the park. I have watched highlights of Gregan’s play at Toulon and his service on front foot ball was excellent. Whitaker couldn’t make rucks playing for Leinster and Pro12/HEC Rugby is supposed to slower then Super Rugby.

            • Roar Guru

              April 2nd 2013 @ 1:53am
              jeznez said | April 2nd 2013 @ 1:53am | ! Report

              Dunning? Really?

              Never saw either player off-shore my judgement and preference for Whitaker in the later years is based purely on watching them both in Super rugby and for the Wallabies.

              Any way, we’ve been this way before and I don’t expect us to agree.

              • April 2nd 2013 @ 2:27am
                Bakkies said | April 2nd 2013 @ 2:27am | ! Report

                Players like Dunning and Baxter were terrible test players but they obviously did enough at Super Rugby to justify places in the Wallabies. Tahs had a solid scrum even with those two there.

              • Roar Guru

                April 2nd 2013 @ 2:33am
                jeznez said | April 2nd 2013 @ 2:33am | ! Report

                Issue wasn’t the scrum (which was average) but the ruck. Baxter went to the post position every time and Dunning was too tired to get to breakdowns so stood out in the centres and took intercepts.

            • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:50am
              Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:50am | ! Report

              Brumbies had the best back row going Melon , George Smith and forget which one but the brumbies had a great pack, If memory serves me correctly the Brumbies made more finals plus he had the likes of Larkham, Mortlock and Roff. Pretty hard to fail bakkies with that line up compared to poor old Whits.

              • April 3rd 2013 @ 3:30am
                Bakkies said | April 3rd 2013 @ 3:30am | ! Report

                Super Rugby changed from 2005 to 2007. Gregan’s last years at the Brumbies. The emphasis was more on a tight structured game and strong set piece. The tight five actually had to hit rucks rather then seagull out on the wing. The pack struggled to get clean ruck ball forcing Gregan and the rest of the backline on to the back foot. The Brumbies had a decent lineout but the scrum was average. The Tahs were the better performing Australian team in that period too. They also played better tight Rugby then the Brumbies.

            • April 10th 2013 @ 8:22am
              BetterRedThanDead said | April 10th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

              Argh! Decent forwards – seriously? Elsom sulking around the paddock, his best form having deserted him. Cannon and Dunning? What?? Brendan Cannon one of the least impressive hookers this country has deemed fit to cap and Dunning a scrummaging lightweight and general idiot.

              Gregan played behind some great forwards over the years, but these guys don’t make that list.

          • April 3rd 2013 @ 2:43am
            ScrumJunkie said | April 3rd 2013 @ 2:43am | ! Report

            Even Whitaker admits that Gregan was better, the only people that can’t are Greg Growden fans…

            Never heard a kiwi say ‘thankfully they started with George, they would have beaten us by more if Whitaker played’. The kiwis were scared of Gregan, Whitaker did;t bother them in the slightest.

          • April 9th 2013 @ 3:57pm
            BetterRedThanDead said | April 9th 2013 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            GG lost the ability to deliver quality ball from the base of the breakdown by taking those damned 2-3 steps before passing, giving time for the opposition loosies to get up ahead of steam and the inside backs to move upon the number 10. Can only imagine it drove Stephen Larkham nuts.

      • April 2nd 2013 @ 11:11pm
        frisky said | April 2nd 2013 @ 11:11pm | ! Report

        I agree that Gregan stayed too long – and I am a Brumbie fan !!. IMO he was chasing theh record for most caps ever.
        He dominated referees, so maybe he dominated selectors as well.

        • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:52am
          Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:52am | ! Report

          He owned Aussie rugby and just dictated his terms and O’Neill lapped him up like a dog. He was a tool with referees.

    • April 1st 2013 @ 10:40am
      winston said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      Piri owned Genia in the WC semi and was the standout halfback at the WC (except the final) and Smith schooled him last year. It all comes down to the forwards winning collisions. Genia needs to kill it at international level consistently to be considered with these guys and his forward pack aren’t helping his cause. He’s definitely the best at sniping and has real pace. His box kicking is woeful yet his kicks in general play are top notch. He can be a game changer and he’s got a lot of Rugby ahead of him.

      Piri when fit has can be freakish. Neither of these guys are near an in form du Preez on consistency though.

      Justin Marshall and Byron Kelliher were also great halfbacks.

      • April 1st 2013 @ 10:57am
        richard said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Byron Kelleher’s only claim to fame,was he dated an American porn star. lol.

        • April 1st 2013 @ 3:40pm
          formeropenside said | April 1st 2013 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

          Yeah, but Ron Jeremy likes to keep talk about that period of his life on the down-low.

          • April 1st 2013 @ 4:25pm
            richard said | April 1st 2013 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

            Gold.FWIW,the girl’s name was Kaylani Lei (real name Ashley Spalding).Kelleher was supposedly heartbroken when she split up with him.She was a porn star,what did Kelleher expect!

        • April 1st 2013 @ 10:09pm
          winston said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

          He was also a pretty handy halfback in his prime. He pushed Marshal out.

          • April 2nd 2013 @ 1:40pm
            richard said | April 2nd 2013 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

            Considering I don’t rate Marshall either,that’s hardly an achievement.

            • April 2nd 2013 @ 8:09pm
              winston said | April 2nd 2013 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

              He regularly schooled Gregan at the time.

              • April 2nd 2013 @ 8:20pm
                richard said | April 2nd 2013 @ 8:20pm | ! Report


              • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:53am
                Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:53am | ! Report

                I agree Winston Marshall and Keleher were great halfbacks.

    • April 1st 2013 @ 10:44am
      Scotty said | April 1st 2013 @ 10:44am | ! Report

      I’d agree Jez that George went on a few years too many, and actually his understudies that could have been good aged and withered in that time. But he was superb for 5 or more years. My personal favourite is Nick Farr-Jones, gutsy beyond the call of duty, smart and strong as an ox and he did the number 9 job perfectly.

      Honourble mention to Peter Stringer – a hero to us wee baldy fellas everywhere!!! Still doing well and giving MOTM performances.

      • April 2nd 2013 @ 1:12am
        Bakkies said | April 2nd 2013 @ 1:12am | ! Report

        I am not sure if I am alone here. Cordingley had a better pass then Whitaker.

        • April 3rd 2013 @ 12:59am
          Malo said | April 3rd 2013 @ 12:59am | ! Report

          Cordingley was a joke how he got on that rwc before whits was outrageous

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