The All Blacks have recalled scrumhalf TJ Perenara to a 36-man squad for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship after his return from Japan, although his flirtation with rugby league left coach Ian Foster less than impressed.
Perenara had been heavily linked to a move to the NRL with Sydney Roosters before recommitting to the All Blacks until the end of 2023.
“I wasn’t personally over-impressed that that played out publicly; I made that point to him, I didn’t like the senior All Black coming out and saying he was thinking of leaving,” Foster told stuff.nz.
“That’s all part of the negotiation ploy I guess, but ultimately he’s back.”
Foster said he was pleased with how Perenara played in Japan but needed more rugby before the Bledisloe Cup opener against Australia at Eden Park on August 7.
“When he went to Japan, he had a clear focus from us,” Foster said.
“The good thing about a halfback going to Japan is that we want our halfbacks fast to the ruck … we monitored his progress over there and were pretty pleased with what we saw in that space. We know he’s a confrontational nine, a tough defender, he’s good over the ball, he’s ultra-competitive, so he’s done that for us for a long long time.
“It was a nice little reminder to say ‘you’re good at that’ but we also want to make sure we keep that threshold of speed in the game. He certainly focused on that in Japan and I thought he did a really good job.”
Lock Sam Whitelock was named captain, with regular skipper Sam Cane omitted as he recovers from a long-term pectoral muscle injury.
The All Blacks play Australia at Eden Park before starting the Rugby Championship against the Wallabies in Perth two weeks later.
Props Ofa Tuungafasi and Joe Moody were also named although Moody is expected to miss the Bledisloe Cup.
All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster said in a statement: “It’s exciting to be naming the squad for the Rugby Championship and we can’t wait for the next phase of our test season.“The Steinlager Series gave us a great opportunity to grow some depth and experience. It also enabled us to re-establish some returning players, both from overseas or from injury.
“The Bledisloe Cup plus the Rugby Championship are pinnacle challenges for us and remain as our top priorities. There is real excitement in the group for these opportunities in front of us.
“Our players are looking forward to spending some time at home before what is shaping up to be a hugely-competitive Rugby Championship. The Bledisloe Cup Series is a great way for us to kick off this part of the season.
“It’s our first challenge; we’re playing for a trophy that is massively important to us, and we’re both coming in fresh off our respective series wins, so it bodes well for a great series.”
All Blacks squad
Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Sam Whitelock (capt), Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece.Finlay Christie remains as temporary cover with the squad as Perenara undergoes a progressive return to competitive rugby.