Rebels’ only headache is who will lead
Barely had he arrived in Melbourne to join the Rebels than Wallabies halfback Will Genia found himself in front of the media. One of the first questions he was asked was whether he and head coach Dave Wessels had discussed the captaincy.
He didn’t mean to laugh but he couldn’t help it.
“I’ve only just got here and it’s about establishing combinations and friendships with the guys who are my teammates and we’ll do it from there,” Genia said.
As one who has asked more than my share of dumb questions during press conferences, I felt sorry for the journalist. But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself thinking. “Good question. It might not be Genia and I’m not sure he’d want the captaincy in the first place, but who on earth is going to lead the Rebels?”
Genia, in many respects, would be the perfect political appointment. Wessels, as everyone is well aware, is the last coach the Western Force ever had and it was about the smartest thing the Rebels have ever done to snap him up and bring him to Melbourne. But now the herculean task in front of him is to unite two sets of players, the Rebels on one side, the Force refugees on the other. So who better to captain the side than someone from outside both groups, an established and well-respected Wallaby who comes to Melbourne from the Queensland Reds, by way of Stade Francais?
Genia may well get the job, but that political process I’ve just outlined … that won’t be the way Wessels arrives at his captain. He’ll take lots of factors into account before he decides. But where the player hails from will have no bearing. It’s not the way he operates. That’s a crucial factor for Rebels fans to keep in mind, and not just where the captaincy is concerned.
At last glance, the Rebels have 14 Wallabies, along with Japanese Test No 8 Amanaki Mafi, Melbourne’s Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2017, and lock Geoff Parling, who has played 29 times for England and three times for the British & Irish Lions — against the Wallabies.
They also have players like centre Billy Meakes and fiveeighth Jono Lance, who have been in and out of the Australian squad. As Genia remarked, the Melbourne playing roster is vastly superior to the group that won the Reds’ Super Rugby title in 2011, so Wessels faces agonising choices. Agonising for him, intriguing for us. Yet, whatever decision he makes, he won’t be weighing up if the player is ex-Force or exRebels, or indeed a “neutral”. The Rebels are shaping up as the story of the season. They were the worst team in Super Rugby last season; now they have, potentially, one of the strongest squads in the southern hemisphere. Knowing Wessels, he will surely be pointing out the chasm that lies between “potential” and “reality”.
But back to the captaincy. It’s not going to be possible for Wessels to reappoint last year’s Rebels captain, Nic Stirzaker, since he has just signed a three-month deal with Saracens. At the very least, he will be in Britain until March but with the Rebels already having Genia and the tal- ented Michael Ruru covering halfback, it would not be surprising if the Saracens stint turns into something more permanent.
So, too, Lance, who has proved such a success at Worcester that they are also keen to have him extend his stay. He is back in Melbourne and training with the team but if Worcester are determined to have him back — and the dual Super Rugby title-winner has been the key to the Warriors’ recent revival — then the Rebels would be happy enough to see him go, simply to ease the strain on their salary cap.
But there are plenty of captaincy contenders who will be staying home at AAMI Park. Test centre-winger Reece Hodge has proven he can take on extra responsibility. So why not the next step to the captaincy? He is chatty on the field; his defence is exemplary; he will play, presumably, at either 10 or 12; and what could be more inspiring than a captain who boots goals from over 60m?
Or perhaps you prefer your captains to be physically imposing, in which case Adam Coleman comes to the fore. Wessels has already once chosen the Test lock to lead his team. Coleman led the Force when they beat the Rebels 31-22 last July.
Centre Tom English is wellspoken, respected and brings energy to the side. The same qualities apply to Dane Haylett- Petty. The problem, though, is that captaining a side from fullback is, well, challenging. As for flanker Colby Fainga’a, who found himself wearing the Rebels captaincy armband for a time last year, how can he be guaranteed a place in the backrow when internationals Mafi, Lopeti Timani and Richard Hardwick are all contending for spots?
There are those who already are talking of the Rebels as title contenders, perhaps forgetting that Australia’s recent record against New Zealand sides is 0 and 26. The team have barely assembled with their Wallabies back and haven’t hit the ground in a trial yet, so it’s impossible to say how they will perform. Even Genia doesn’t know yet, although his best guess is they will play a combination of direct and expansive rugby. “Heck, we have big forwards, big ballcarriers.”
And unlike the ex-Force players, he has no experience at all of Wessels. “Intense,” he said after meeting him. “The one thing I enjoy is that he pushes everyone to be the best they can be. He brings intensity to the group, to the sessions and, being a young group, he’s trying to mould it in that way as well.”
Intense, huh? As in Mr Intensity, Eddie Jones, under whom Genia played his first season at the Reds? “I don’t think anyone is as intense as Eddie Jones.”
Reece Hodge has proven he can take on extra responsibility. So why not the next step to the captaincy?
Melbourne Rebels recruit Will Genia, training with his new teammates, is among several candidates for the captaincy