Will Genia is just 13 Tests into his rapidly-blossoming career but his influential rise already has All Black rivals likening him to their own Mr Cool – Dan Carter.
Wallabies dynamo Genia’s halfback rival Jimmy Cowan, who reunited with Carter in New Zealand’s backline for Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup Test, noted the 22-year-old had the same smarts and poise as world rugby’s No.1 playmaker.
Both Genia and Cowan captain their Super 14 teams, Queensland and the Highlanders respectively, but the mercurial Kiwi self-deprecatingly laughed that he came up short in comparison.
“Look at the two of us, we’re totally different,” Cowan said.
“You’ve seen that through his captaincy in the Super 14. He was pretty sharp in that area.
“He reminds me a lot of Dan Carter when he plays – he’s pretty cool, calm and collected when he’s playing and you sort of see that in his game too.”
Genia’s composure at the ruck base and ability to pick out the right runner or break the line himself was a feature of his return from a broken hand in last weekend’s vibrant 30-13 victory over South Africa.
Cowan, who replaces first-time father Piri Weepu at No.9 in one of two changes to the NZ side, marvelled at his rival’s highly-impressive display following five weeks on the sidelines.
“It’s a real testament to his character to come back and play like that, with intensity like that,” he said.
“He’s just a tough little bugger too.”
Cowan shouldn’t have been surprised after the way Genia finished the Super 14 – playing the last 60 minutes of the Reds’ final-round 38-36 win over the Highlanders with a knee ligament strain.
Hobbling on one leg, Genia saved two tries with his scrambling defence and also provided his customary crisp service before missing the next month of rugby.
“I didn’t know that at the time,” Cowan said of the grade two medial ligament strain.
“I kept telling him to get off but he wouldn’t get off.
“I rate him very highly and he’s just carried on where he left off in the Super 14, hasn’t he, sniping and doing what he does best.”
Genia must quickly regain his 2009 combination with Matt Giteau who will go head-to-head with 71-Test five-eighth Carter after the Wallabies were forced into a slight backline reshuffle.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper’s suspension has seen Giteau slot into No.10 with Berrick Barnes promoted to inside centre.
While Cooper’s big loss robs Australia of his dangerous unpredictability, the new combination have plenty of experience together and can both mix and match at No’s 10 and 12.
“You’ll see them in both roles within the game,” said coach Robbie Deans. “We expect them to thrive.”
But All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who also recalled Joe Rokocoko for the injured Rene Ranger, hinted Cooper’s conjuring ability – modelled on Carlos Spencer – would be missed.
“There’s a bit of a Carlos about him,” said Henry, who coached Spencer at the Auckland Blues.