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Opinion

WILL GENIA: Why I'm impressed with Rennie, and how we shape up against All Blacks

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Expert
20th July, 2021
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The young Wallabies should take plenty from that third Test win over France, having lost a man early against a good, quality team that had started to get the momentum in the series, as they look ahead to the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.

To be down to 14 men and with four of the key backs having played just 17 Tests between them, the ability to manage the game was really impressive.

They got assistance from Hoops and the other senior players in the forward pack but essentially the running of the game comes down to those guys, particularly Tate McDermott, Noah Lolesio and Hunter Paisami at nine, ten and 12, and they did an excellent job considering how young and inexperienced they are.

Not everything went to plan and they made a few errors inside their 22 on exiting, but what was most impressive was they didn’t shy away then, they didn’t go into their shells and allow the moment to get too big for them.

That is something that will stay with those players further into their careers and when they play bigger Test matches against teams like New Zealand and South Africa.

Winning a game like that does so much more for your confidence. It makes you realise that in the face of adversity you have the temperament and composure, as well as the ability, to control those tough situations and come out as winners in them.

It can’t be understated how much that will do for their growth, their development and their psyche as they move through the rest of their Test careers.

‘That kind of contact is what you sign up for’

I’m pleased Marika Koroibete has been cleared to play in the Bledisloe Cup after the judiciary found there were mitigating factors around his red card.

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I don’t think that is a red card. I barely thought it was a yellow – I thought it was a penalty. If you slow anything down it can look horrible.

Marika Koroibete tackles Anthony Jelonch. Getty Images.

My initial thought was he hit him high on the chest, but because of the angles and the fact you slow it down, he looks like he hits him in the head.

I was watching the game with Pat Howard, and we were saying that we understand the safety and player welfare issues but there has got to be a different approach between the amateur and professional levels.

At professional level, and I’m not just saying it’s all about the entertainment and spectacle, but it also partly is. You can’t be letting decisions like that determine the outcome of Tests.

Australia were unbelievable in winning that game down to 14 men. But more often than not, in my experience of Test match rugby, it’s almost impossible to win when you’re down a man, especially for 75 minutes.

Thankfully, it didn’t end up ruining the spectacle because both teams played really well, but you’d hate to see something like that decide a World Cup final or the Bledisloe.

Almost every professional player would be happy with that being given as a penalty and move on.

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I know people are making a lot out of the French player, Anthony Jelonch, going down and grabbing his face, but regardless of whether he did that or not it would have come up on the big screen and they would have pulled it back.

Yes, he made himself look like a pork chop, but it was irrelevant. The TMO would have had a look anyway.

I’m still playing the game, and I’ve been in situations where things like that happen and you think ‘sir, just give a penalty and let’s play’. It’s so deflating when the game stops for several minutes like that.

To be honest, that kind of contact is what you sign up for. You have to remember you’re not playing a contact sport, you’re playing a collision sport at an elite level. There are fine margins when you can move in a split second and something can go wrong.

Players don’t go out there with intention to break someone’s neck or tackle them high. At an elite level it’s about miniscule movements, movements that happen within milliseconds. We’ve all got to have some sense of understanding about that, particularly World Rugby.

‘Why I’ve been impressed by Dave Rennie’

I have to credit Dave Rennie for his selections in the series and I’m looking forward to how he faces the challenge of the All Blacks.

Taniela Tupou came on and essentially won the game for Australia in the scrum. That last scrum penalty was because of him, with credit to Angus Bell as well.

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You can see the impact Taniela has when he comes off the bench – he’s so much more effective than when he starts a game.

I’ve been really impressed by Rennie in this series. I’ve never met him, but he strikes me as a confident, calm sort of guy. He’s had plenty of success at Super Rugby level and overseas and I like that when he speaks he shows full confidence and trust in his players.

I thought Tate was excellent. There was a noticeable difference with him in the starting team compared to Jake Gordon.

That’s no slight on Jake, who is obviously a high-quality player, but you saw early on the game Tate’s ability to bounce out and sit defenders down and create space for the runners on his outside. At times he got it wrong, and probably ran a little too much, but that intent made a big difference.

He also kicked exceptionally well. I’ve always known he’s a good kicker, having done a lot of work with him, but for him to get the opportunity to showcase that from the start of the game made a difference. There were a couple of passes that were a little off the mark, but he had a big influence on how the game was played as well as making a difference to the team.

I really like the look of Hunter and Lenny as a partnership in the centres. They’re explosive players with the ability to create something from nothing. They’re also a physical presence in that midfield.

Of course, it will be completely different against the All Blacks and South Africa. But I think that because of the series win and the exposure these young guys have had, they’ll come into that Rugby Championship and Bledisloe series a lot more confident.

More than that they’ll come into it knowing how to handle themselves in pressure situations and moments when their backs are against the wall and their opponents have momentum, and how to capitalise on moments when they’ve got momentum.

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‘I can seeing them sticking with Noah and Tate’

I think Nic White is the best nine in the country and James O’Connor is the best 10. But I don’t think they’ve played enough to be match fit for Bledisloe I, whereas you’ve got guys like Tate and Noah who have played in the French series, had success, and are going to be coming in confident and on a high and have the match fitness that would make a difference.

For those reasons I can see them sticking with Tate at 9, Noah at 10.

James O'Connor of the Wallabies runs the ball

James O’Connor. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

James is a world class player and the incumbent 10. But you have to remember he won’t have played for a long time by the time we come to Bledisloe I, where as Noah will come into with three 80 minute performances where he’s played well, where he’s been given the keys to run the team and he’s a dominant and clear voice.

When he’s fit, I would pick James because he has the experience and composure and the Wallabies are a better team with him in it at No.10.

Nic White is a similar situation, and I can see them picking those two on the bench.

Experience matters when it comes to playing the All Blacks. I still think they’re the best team in the world. They’ve got threats all over the park and they can beat you in a number of ways. They can beat you playing tight, can beat you playing the percentages and can beat you through out and out pace and tempo of the game.

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It can be quite overwhelming for a player who’s not experienced or who doesn’t have the runs on the board coming into a game like that because the game can get away from you very quickly. But it depends on the player.

Tate’s a good example. He’s been playing really good rugby at Super Rugby level for a number of years now and he’s got his first Test start and I think he’s someone who would be ready.

He’s a competitor. He enjoys playing against the Kiwi teams and generally has had some success against them at Super Rugby level, so I think his game and his mentality is suited to playing against a team like New Zealand.

Do we have a chance of beating them? Absolutely!

The impressive part of this Wallaby team is their forward pack. In years gone by we’ve not cut it with the All Blacks in the forwards, whether around set piece or in tight around the breakdown with our ball carries and defence.

It’s an area where there we parity, at least, and you could even argue we have the edge around our forward pack.
But if I’m going to be brutally honest there are mismatches in the backs.

They have players like Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown – mismatches in terms of experience and overall quality.

I thought the All Blacks played well against Fiji. Last year they didn’t seem like the All Blacks that we know, but it seems like they’re in a much better place this year – the second year with a new coach, a bit more continuity in selection and a little bit more understanding in how they want to play.

You could say they’re in a similar place to us in terms of rebuilding culture and environmmement because of the new coach. The difference would be they’ve got a lot more consistency in the players they’ve had at this level.

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