BRISBANE, June 21 (Reuters) - Australia scrumhalf Will Genia fully expects the British and Irish Lions to come after him in Saturday’s first test but he is happy to have a target on his back if it gives his team mates more opportunities.
Genia is widely regarded as the best scrumhalf in the world and was the first name on Lions defence coach Andy Farrell’s lips when asked about the Wallabies threat on Friday.
Genia reads the game brilliantly, leads his forwards like an on-field general, kicks well from hand and constantly probes for defensive weakness to exploit around the fringes.
‘Stop Genia and you stop Australia’ has been a mantra for opposing sides over the last few years and the 25-year-old has no doubt he will come in for some close attention at Lang Park.
”You just have to deal with that in the game,“ he told reporters on Friday. ”In the test match they’ll look to pressure you a bit more than a Super Rugby match but at the end of the day I‘m just one player.
“If all the attention is on me then there is going to be opportunities elsewhere, so I just have to work hard if there is that extra bit of attention and pressure on me to deal with that and look to give other blokes opportunities.”
The son of a former minister in the Papua New Guinea government, Genia had his game face on on Friday and had clearly made good use of his time in the Wallabies training camp.
“Having watched the Lions in the last few weeks there hasn’t been too much space around that ruck area,” he said.
”If that’s the case then obviously there has to be space somewhere else, so it’s just about identifying the right times and taking the right opportunities when they present themselves.
“If it’s on to run, it’s on to run, but as it’s been tight around that area maybe it’s early to shift the ball to James O‘Connor or Christian Lealiifano or the forwards to do the hard work early on in the game.”
Genia will renew his acquaintance with Lions scrumhalf Mike Phillips on Saturday and has a healthy respect for his opposite number, even if he thinks it cannot be defined as a battle between them.
”He’s an exceptional player,“ Genia said. ”He’s a physical, abrasive character. He likes to get stuck in.
”As far as individual battles go, you very rarely as halfbacks come into contact with each other.
“There’s no real one-on-one opportunities with each other, it’s more just doing as well as you can for your team and having a positive influence, rather than trying to do too much and outdo the other bloke.”
With his Queensland Reds halfback partner Quade Cooper having been left out of the squad by coach Robbie Deans, Genia will link with inexperienced flyhalf O‘Connor on Saturday.
”We’re rooming together,“ said Genia. ”We’ve made a big effort to make sure we’ve built bonds within the group and with a nine and 10 combination you have to do that so you have a trust and a good understanding in each other.
“I think he’ll do really well. If training is anything to go by, he’s really dived into the role of accepting the responsibility of running the team.”
With heavy rain falling on the Brisbane streets outside the hotel conference room, Genia said he still expected there to be plenty of running rugby after a tight start to the contest.
“We expect that they will play an expansive style of footy, weather permitting, the ball will get thrown around. I think we want to express ourselves and play as well,” he said.
“I imagine tired legs, weary legs, hopefully it does get a little bit loose and guys from the bench can come on and look to expose a few gaps that may be there.”
Although the Australian rugby tradition is to win by playing running rugby, Genia concluded with an expression of pragmatism that would have made Wallabies coach Deans proud.
“We want to score tries but we’ll take the win any way we can get it,” he said.
“In terms of the series, the first game is huge. If we can play well and assert ourselves on the game and win, it sets us up for the series really well.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)