Into the hot seat: Nic White will start at halfback when the Wallabies face Argentina on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
New Wallabies halfback Nic White is confident he can literally step into Will Genia's boots and then keep the world's best No.9 out of Australia's starting XV.
Wallabies captain Genia was dumped from the Test team on Wednesday because he's ''not at the peak'' of his game and coach Ewen McKenzie wants a change. McKenzie said White's rise wasn't a rotation selection and he'd earned the right to take over from Genia.
White has played just 16 minutes in his three Tests and hasn't won a game, but he got an unexpected selection gift from Genia: two pairs of size 9½ boots. ''[Will's] not only offered me advice but given me two pairs of boots this week,'' White beamed. ''It just shows where Will and I are at. We're just friends at the end of the day.''
The feisty ACT Brumbies halfback's selection is the biggest shock in McKenzie's two-month tenure as Wallabies coach.
That's significant given the hype surrounding controversial star Quade Cooper and code-hopper Israel Folau. But given Genia's status as the world's leading No.9, being the interim captain and with the team trying to end a four-game losing streak, few saw the axing coming. The Wallabies have lost all three games under McKenzie. White's booming boot will add an extra dimension to the attack and his kicking game is regarded as one of the best in Australia.
White played in the biggest game of his career last month when the Brumbies lost the Super Rugby grand final. He played the final despite straining his groin in the pre-match warm-up. The injury has lingered until this week.
The 23-year-old didn't want the injury made public because he didn't want any excuses for his sub-par performance in the Brumbies' defeat in the final. He will get his chance for big-game redemption as the Wallabies chase an elusive win against Argentina in Perth on Saturday night. White feared he had missed his Test opportunity last season when shoulder surgery ruined his chances of taking over from Genia when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.
''Ewen hasn't given me the jersey to go out and have a little run around,'' White said. ''I have to make sure I'm well prepared. I'm extremely excited.''
McKenzie resisted going with an all-Brumbies combination of White, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano in the chief playmaking positions. Instead, Toomua will stay on the bench with Cooper keeping the five-eighth duties.
''[White's] got one of the best kicking games I've ever seen and people will assume we've picked him because of his kicking game,'' McKenzie said. ''But he's actually got a very good running game … You have to have an environment where you've got competition for spots or you won't get the best out of everyone.''