WHEN Chris Cusiter faced Australia for the first time in 2004 he was one of the most exciting young scrum-halves emerging in the world game.
• Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia trains at Peffermill ahead of Saturday's Test. The 21-year-old was acclaimed for his performance in Australia's victory over England this month. Picture: Neil Hanna
Five years on he is reasserting his claims to being a world-class talent, but will have to do so this weekend against the latest sensation in the global scrum-half factory.
Will Genia was hailed as the 'new George Gregan' when he starred in Australia's victory over England at the start of this Grand Slam tour campaign. He might only be 5ft 8in and 13 stones, but he was just as impressive in Dublin on Sunday even though the 'Slam' was halted in a dramatic finale that made for a 20-20 draw. He is not unlike Cusiter, possessing a strong upper body, an eye for sniping runs around the fringes and under bigger defenders and slick hands.
In his first season on the Test stage, he has quickly become known for injecting great pace to the game, and if the speed at which he speaks is a guide to his play, the Scottish defence is in for an interminable battle simply watching him this weekend.
Sanchez William Genia, to give him his full name, was born in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 1988, the son of a government minister, Kilroy, and was one of many young players from around Australia and New Zealand sent by their families to the boarding school system on the mainland at the age of 12. Genia admits he had no knowledge of rugby then, which only makes his rise even more remarkable.
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"It was all rugby league in Port Moresby where I grew up," he said. "I didn't play sport at primary school, just backyard cricket really. But when you go to a private school everyone expects you to be able to play, and I felt that weight of expectation on me. I didn't know the rules, didn't know what a ruck or maul was, nothing. I had quite a good skill set in catching and passing, and hand-eye co-ordination, and tackling as a 12-year-old was just grabbing someone and chucking them to the ground really. I started off as a winger and moved into inside centre and then into half-back."
His older brother, Frankie, who has been capped by Papua New Guinea, provided a lead and younger brother, Nigel, is now following him through the ranks in Queensland. Genia, however, has hardly had time to draw breath in a whirlwind period that started with the Brisbane schoolboy being plucked from Queensland's under-19 squad by Eddie Jones, the Reds' former Wallaby coach, and taken on tour to Japan three years ago.
"That was probably more of a shock to me than anyone," he said. "I had just played Queensland and Aussie under-19s, and then he took me to play for a Queensland team against the Japanese national side. It was just a dream to be on the plane with the boys."
Genia started to turn heads in the 2007 Super 14, making his debut before having played a senior club match and going on to play in 11 of the Reds' 13 games. He was Australia under-20s scrum-half at the IRB World Junior Championships in Wales in 2008, which was where he first earned a man of the match award against England, and repeated the feat two weeks ago, but this time his try helped secure victory over "our arch enemy".
He accepts the Gregan comparison as a great compliment, but would never dare agree with it, and cuts dead a question that suggests he is now Australia's 'incumbent' scrum-half. Having made his Test debut against New Zealand and his first start in victory over South Africa, it comes as little surprise that Genia is now revelling in every new weekly challenge north of the equator.
"It has been great, exciting, and very different," he enthused. "In the northern hemisphere they can play really tight and really expansive as well, but tend to focus more on field position and playing that tight sort of game in wearing teams down as opposed to, say, a southern hemisphere team, who like to run the ball from everywhere.
"Scotland seem to be working hard to take the bloke out and concentrating on the bloke rather than the ball, but it's all a good experience for me – a good learning curve. I'm not nervous, more excited, just looking forward now to playing at Murrayfield."
The 21-year-old is one of a dozen players making their first trip to Scotland and, encouraged by Deans to get out of the team hotel, he has been getting to know the Scottish capital which he believes will help the team on Saturday.
"I like the fact that it's quite different here – the real cold environment, the buildings and everything," he added.
"I went and saw Buckingham Palace in London and went out in Dublin a bit, just going for random walks really and taking photos – I've been a bit of a tourist – and Edinburgh Castle is very impressive. But it's great for the team, just to go for a walk or get some lunch, a coffee; you bond really well. It builds a lot of trust and I think if you feel comfortable with your mates off the field, you feel even more so that they've got your back on the field."
The team bonding has stretched as far as his Queensland half-back partner Quade Cooper giving him a haircut this week, which he believes makes him look 'Fijian'. Scotland have already seen off the challenge of the islanders last weekend and will be hoping the new young Wallaby does not enjoy his first taste of the national rugby stadium, but one gets the feeling that if Cusiter and Co manage to dampen this kid's enthusiasm, they will be halfway to causing a major shock against Australia.