Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Sorry All Blacks, Genia deserves top gong


The IRB don't have a great track record of giving the player of the year award to the right man. Some years it has been a decidedly straightforward business - such an obvious decision to make because one man has stood out.

Dan Carter in 2005 was one of those years. How could anyone else have seriously been better than Carter that year? Richie McCaw the following year and again in 2010 was a no-brainer - he was in a different stratosphere to everyone else.

But in 2009 McCaw won the award when it felt like it should have been Brian O'Driscoll's year and while this won't be popular in Wales, as good as he was and as heart-warming as it is to see a player so reliant on speed and guile to thrive in the test arena, Shane Williams was perhaps fortunate to win ahead of Carter.

This year the nominations are: Will Genia, David Pocock, Thierry Dusautoir, Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu and Jerome Kaino. That's going to be tough. Is there an obvious stand out from those six?

Well, there probably is... Genia. Just ahead of Kaino, Nonu, Pocock, Dusautoir and Weepu in that order.

Genia has reached that special place where every team he encounters will have spent most of their analysis working out ways to diffuse his explosive influence.

When the All Blacks crushed Australia in the Tri Nations this year they hounded Genia. Didn't let him move and they won the game with something to spare. In their next encounter, they failed to tie in Genia and he ran riot - scoring the winning try. Back to Eden Park for the semi-final and Genia was unable to control the game because the All Blacks pounced on him.

Stop Genia - stop the Wallabies... and that in itself is the greatest endorsement of the halfback. Has there been such a good international team so reliant on just one man?

The only shame for Genia this year has been the fact that at times, particularly in the last few weeks, he has looked to be carrying the creative burden entirely on his shoulders. It has seemed that he perhaps lost confidence in Quade Cooper during the World Cup and felt the need to take too much on to compensate. That's not more Cooper bashing before anyone starts - players can see when a team-mate is struggling and the Wallaby first five was hardly brimming with confidence against either Ireland, South Africa or New Zealand.

Like a good halfback should, Genia looked to adapt and take on more responsibility just as Piri Weepu did against Argentina when the inexperienced Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden were at No 10.

It has been a privilege to have seen so much of Genia this year - the only halfback in world rugby who All Black coach Graham Henry believes can genuinely handle 80 minutes in the role at test level.

The other five nominated have been superb, especially Kaino and Nonu who have left behind the ghosts of their former selves. But it has been the year of Genia and he deserves to be named IRB Player of the Year.

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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