Will Genia: Gap between rugby hemispheres not that great

The gap between northern hemisphere rugby nations and their apparently all-conquering southern-hemisphere counterparts is not the yawning chasm many pundits believe, Australia and Stade Francais scrum-half Will Genia says.

"I don't think there is that much of a gap," he insisted.

"Obviously, there were four southern hemisphere teams in the semi-finals of the World Cup, but in tournament rugby that's just the way it goes sometimes.

"We were lucky enough to come away with the win against Scotland. You can win and you can lose and the margins are very fine - and I don't think a World Cup is a good gauge of where northern and southern hemisphere rugby is."

With the Six Nations underway, the latest round reviewed by ESPN columnist Greg Growden, and the northern hemisphere's Europe-based rugby superpowers desperate to restore some battered pride, Genia pointed out the standard of club rugby in Europe as evidence of the quality of rugby in the north.

"You see the quality of rugby that the sides over here can play - for example Stade's match against Leicester in the final pool game of the European Champions Cup was a cracking game.

"That game, and the Clermont-Bordeaux match - both were absolute crackers... They were great rugby - the passing of the ball between forwards and backs and looking to use the ball was first class.

"I think the quality of rugby is very similar. There are just different philosophies on how to play the game.

"Obviously, New Zealand rely on fitness and skill to beat the opposition - and they're the best in the world because they're so good at it.

"Teams on this side of the world rely on set-piece dominance and physicality, but you can also see that a lot of nations are changing the way they're playing because clubs are changing the way they do things.

"When Leicester played us in the first match of the European Champions Cup at Leicester they played great rugby then, too - always looking to move the ball, and the interchange of passes between backs and forwards was incredible.

"I don't think there's much to do to bridge that gap."

He has noticed a similar approach to the game during his short European and Top 14 career.

"There's more emphasis on the contact side of things, here," he said. "I think teams over here love to pile pressure into the breakdown and disrupt ball, to try to disrupt their opponents' momentum.

"There's also a big focus on set-piece dominance - scrums, lineouts - winning ascendancy there and winning penalties. I think that's probably the big difference.

"And the game is probably a little slower. I don't think there's as much ball-in-play action as in Super Rugby - but I think that's because there's more of an emphasis on the contact side, slowing the ball down at the breakdown and putting numbers in there to make it a bit of a dogfight."

Genia's debut season in France's Top 14 has not quite gone to plan. As he promised before the World Cup in England last autumn, he jumped on a train to report for duty at his new club the day after the tournament ended - but he has not been able to shake off the knee injury he picked up in the final.

Team-mates Jules Plisson and Jonathan Danty have both hailed the speed and accuracy of Genia's passes - but that injury has kept his appearances for Stade to a minimum.

"It's frustrating because the club is done really well by me," Genia said. "I'm having quite a bit of trouble with it at the moment. I haven't played for three weeks because of the damage to the cartilage in my right knee, so I'm having scans and meetings with specialists to decide the best option."

That appears to be surgery that will bring his debut season in France to a jarring early end with half the season still to go.

"I could have an arthroscopy which would rule me out for four to six weeks but there's a surgery where I could have cartilage put in from another part of my body.

"I think that it's what we'll do and it means a five-month recovery time, which rules me out for the rest of the season. Obviously, I'll be back for the start of next season.

"I really want to make sure I give back to the club by performing as well as I can - but I don't feel I can as yet, that's the problem.

"My knee is giving me issues. The club is being really good and looking after me, by getting me to see a specialist and obviously recommending long-term surgery.

"They could easily have said to me, 'We want you to play, get the arthroscopy, you'll only be out for four weeks', but they've seen it as a long-term thing and, I think, a quality-of-life thing as well - because getting the cartilage effectively means I'll have a new knee. I won't have the issues - the pain or anything restricting me from doing what I want to do.

"It will allow me to train better, to play better and give back to the club."