Test great George Gregan says Will Genia's high-profile Wallabies demotion is in the best interests of Australia heading into next year's World Cup.
Just as Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said his side would "shut down" the three-Test series against France in Melbourne on Saturday, Gregan said Ewen McKenzie was making a smart strategic decision to attempt to do so without Australia's most-experienced halfback.
"I think he's looking at using this as a chance to give [Nic] White and [Nick] Phipps the Test-match experience they need at this point," Gregan said. "They know what Will can do when he's at his peak, but they are probably looking at the longer game."
White will oppose experienced French halfback Morgan Parra, who started at five-eighth in France's World Cup final loss to New Zealand in 2011 and made an impressive 10-minute contribution against the Wallabies last week.
Gregan said the overhauled French side, turned inside out for the second Test with 10 changes to the starting line-up this week, would give the Wallabies a run for their money at Etihad Stadium.
"This team would be closer to the strongest French team for the tour," he said. "Having [captain] Thierry Dusautoir back in there with [Damien] Chouly and Yannick Nyanga will mean a very impressive back row, and Parra will add a bit of balance in the halves with his experience. They will bank on that experience lifting them against Australia."
While White was roundly praised for his performance in the Wallabies' 50-23 rout of France in Brisbane last week, many questioned whether Genia's form slump was serious enough to leave him of out the squad in favour of Phipps.
It has been a spectacular fall from favour for the 55-Test halfback, considered by many to be the world's best, even at just below peak form. The Queenslander was benched by McKenzie last year but never dropped entirely. His demotion during this series is the first time since 2010 that Genia has been left out of the squad while fit and available. But with just 17 Test matches left before the World Cup in Britain next year, Gregan said McKenzie was right to give White and Phipps crucial game time.
"It's a while away, but it's smart to have three halfbacks getting Test experience a year out from the World Cup," he said. "We saw that in [the 2011 Cup]. You can go with young players but you need experience. Winning a World Cup is about having those sorts of players with game time under their belt, having that youth and energy but having the experience everywhere, even on your bench."
The Wallabies took Genia, Luke Burgess and Nick Phipps to New Zealand in 2011. Genia and Burgess had 58 caps between them, but Phipps had just two, one of them a starting role against Samoa, under his belt. Three years later, Phipps has played 15 Tests and White, who made his debut last year, has played 11. Genia, meanwhile, reached his half-century last year and is expected to make a return to the starting line-up at some point during the Rugby Championship.
Meanwhile, Hooper used his first captain's media opportunity to say the Wallabies wanted to go to Sydney next week with the series stitched up and six wins in a row under their belts.
"You're not going to put seven tries on the board every weekend ... we're just trying to find the ability to win and win consistently," he said. "We've got five now in a row and we're looking at six. We're starting to build something nice and it would be nice to shut this series down"
George Gregan is an HSBC ambassador. HSBC is proud to partner with the Wallabies.