Things are looking more positive for the Wallabies in the halfback department, with assistant coach Stephen Larkham saying he is 100 per cent confident Will Genia will be right for the first Test against Ireland in June.
It comes as Nick Phipps was awarded his first starting gig for the Waratahs this year for their match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Quick recovery: Will Genia is on track to feature in the first Wallabies Test of the year.
There is less than a month before Michael Cheika’s side take the field for their first outing of 2018 against the reigning Six Nations grand slam champions.
With back line positions still up for grabs – most notably in on the wing and at No.13 – the Wallabies can ill-afford to have any of their most experienced players injured ahead of what will be a huge series.
When Genia went down with a knee injury against the Crusaders in Melbourne last Friday, there were initial concerns he would miss the entire June series.
However, scans revealed a more positive picture for the 30-year-old and according to Larkham, Genia might even be able to get a Super Rugby match under his belt before the first Test in Brisbane on June 9.
"I’m 100 per cent confident he’ll be right for that first game in June," Larkham said. "Without putting a time frame on it I think there’s the potential of playing in Super Rugby before the Test season but we’ll have to wait and see how the rehab progresses. He knows how to get right for matches."
With Genia – barring another setback – assured for the first Test, it is the replacement halfback spot that is more up for grabs.
Larkham hinted that Phipps, who has 61 Tests of experience, was in line to retain a spot on the bench.
That Daryl Gibson has picked Phipps in the No.9 jersey this weekend will please the Wallabies coaching staff, who want him getting as much football as possible in the next month.
Phipps, who had a niggly calf injury at the start of the season, has played just 64 minutes of Super Rugby this year across three appearances. Jake Gordon has averaged 70 minutes in his eight games.
Larkham praised Gordon for "playing some really good football", however Phipps is a favourite of Cheika’s and has featured heavily in Wallabies Tests since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“He’s quite an experienced player,” Larkham said. “He’s constantly working on his game, no doubt about that. He’s tried and tested at the next level coming in.
“I’m comfortable with the role he’s playing at the Waratahs at the moment and I’m sure over the next couple of weeks he’ll get a bit more of an opportunity there which will put him in good stead for the June Test series.”
Phipps will want to let his football do the talking on Saturday after being fined and stripped of the Waratahs club captaincy for urinating on a bar at a Sydney pub on the night of his bucks party.
Coach Daryl Gibson said Phipps’ exemplary fitness would help the Waratahs in their bid to break a 14-year drought against the Crusaders on New Zealand soil.
“I think Nick’s strengths for this game are really important,” Gibson said. “The way he does speed the game up with his fitness …that will be an important factor heading into this game.
“I’ve decided a couple of games ago that I’m going to rotate my two halfbacks through this New Zealand period to give them both an opportunity to not only get the best out of both of them for those games but then both are really pressing for national honours.
“Nick’s such a competitor and the chances he’s been given when he comes on, you can see the speed in which he wants to play the game. Also, I’m looking at those fixtures and trying to match both their skill sets to those games.”
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