The 2023 Rugby World Cup will be launched by a blockbuster clash between hosts France and three-time champions New Zealand but Australia still don’t know who they’ll be facing in their first match.
Wallabies halfback Will Genia has heaped praise on his Stade Francais bosses for allowing him to rejoin Australia’s grand slam bid, while coach Michael Cheika refused to contemplate his availability for next month’s all-important England clash.
With the experienced halfback back in camp with the Wallabies, Cheika faces two important questions.
The first, of whether Australia’s star of the Rugby Championships should be rushed straight back into a winning side, will be answered early in the week ahead of the Murrayfield Test against Scotland on Saturday (0130 Sunday kickoff AEDT).
The second, trickier conundrum surrounds the 28-year-old’s availability for the tour-ending clash with England.
That fixture could be Australia’s chance to secure a rare grand slam win – a first since 1984 – should they remain undefeated until that point, which is still a mighty task given their upcoming clashes with Scotland and Ireland.
Genia on Monday thanked Stade Francais president Thomas Savare for freeing him up to face Scotland, France and Ireland – despite a recent glut of injuries the the club’s halfbacks.
“It’s still a big thing for him to let me come, so I’m very grateful,” Genia said.
“A lot of the people at the club are very understanding of the fact it’s still important for me to want to play for my country.”
Whether Cheika will lobby hard for Genia to be granted a release from his French club for a Test which falls outside the international window is something he’s not ready to contemplate.
“You can ask me that question on November 28 (after the Ireland game, if the grand slam is still on offer),” Cheika said in Edinburgh on Monday.
“What we do this week will decide how much I’ll be able to ask that question later on.
“I think it’s irrelevant because right now the only game where the grand slam is up, is Scotland.”
Cheika suggested Genia was ‘hurt’ at being denied a release for last weekend’s clash with Wales, which also fell outside World Rugby’s international window.
“It probably hurt him last week, not being able to play, but that’s the way we always knew it was going to be,” Cheika said.
Of more immediate concern for Cheika is to work out how to reintegrate his star No.9 in a team which looked as crisp in attack as it has since last year’s World Cup.
To change up a winning team could be considered a risk, especially with Nick Phipps warming to the role of starting halfback with an impressive display against Wales.
“(Genia has) obviously had a great Rugby Championship, there’s no doubt about it,” Cheika siad.
“But Phipps has played well these past two games. That’s exactly what I want to have, these issues.”