Wallabies' real test of culture is still to come, says Genia
That was then ... Will Genia and Quade Cooper after the Wallabies' loss to Ireland in the Rugby World Cup last year. Genia said the side is staying united. Photo: Getty Images
ARE the Wallabies a team divided or is Quade Cooper's claim of a toxic environment grossly overblown?
The truth, according to Will Genia, will be there for all to see on the pitch in Pretoria in three days.
While declining to talk directly about Cooper's comments, the injured Australian halfback mounted a passionate defence of his teammates' attitudes and said the best test of the Wallabies' culture was playing ''one of the biggest Test matches the group will face this year''.
''If you go over there and you play against South Africa in Pretoria and you're not all on the same page, you're not all buying into it, they'll get smashed to be honest,'' Genia said.
''But regardless of everything that happens, the boys do understand the privilege that they have in representing their country, we all do, and … they don't take that for granted.''
Genia's words, spoken from his couch in Brisbane where the one-time Wallabies captain is recovering from surgery to rebuild a ruptured knee ligament, are timely considering the turmoil sparked by Cooper's outbursts.
In the absence of an official response from Australian rugby administrators, message boards, fan forums, social media and website comments have lit up with, simultaneously, support and criticism for Cooper, criticism of coach Robbie Deans and general despair that Australian rugby has sunk to a public, albeit one-sided, slanging match.
Genia said he could only go by reports coming back from South Africa that things were running smoothly in camp, but that the trip away was the best thing for the team.
''They seem very focused, they seem like they're really enjoying their time over there and I think with everything that's happening it's obviously a good time for the boys to get away … you stick tight as a group and seem that little bit more focused and together,'' he said, quickly adding that the Wallabies jersey was as sacred a piece of fabric as it ever was.
''I would give the world to be playing right now, I would give the world to be back in that jersey … but from being in the group, no one takes it for granted.''
''Regardless of what's being said, whatever is being written, whatever anyone thinks, or anyone's opinion, we never take it for granted, it means the world to all of us.
''We may play poorly or not do as well as we want but we have a lot of pride in the jersey and in doing well for our country.''
Locking down a rogue impulse to kick away possession, plus pinpoint accuracy under the high ball, would give the Wallabies the chance they needed to start well against the Boks, the Reds vice-captain said.
He defended the side's attack - another criticism of Cooper's - which has struggled to find rhythm as the team rotated through three different playmakers.
''There hasn't been much stability in terms of combinations … having [Pat McCabe] come back gives us a lot more punch in our midfield and direct, hard running, which gets us over the advantage line,'' Genia said.
''If you take out the kick-happy approach we used against Argentina and give ourselves a chance I think the attack will start to work to be honest.''
Two weeks into a six- to nine-month rehabilitation process, Genia said it had been very difficult to watch from home as the team pulled off their come-from-behind victory against the Pumas.