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The forgotten leader Razor must pick for the All Blacks - and why it could change who wears the prized No.10 jersey

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Expert
15th April, 2024
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9115 Reads

There are those who will forever play the man – and not the ball – where TJ Perenara is concerned.

The All Blacks and Hurricanes halfback has often used his status to opine on issues outside of rugby or to back causes that aren’t universally popular.

His recent endorsement of the anti-government haka performed by the Hurricanes Poua, would be a case in point.

There’s a weariness that’s developed about the 32-year-old Perenara. A feeling that he’s had more than enough to say for himself and ought not to be getting another All Black platform from which to say it.

I don’t care what athletes think of the world beyond their chosen career and, on that basis, think Perenara should be one of the first players picked in Scott Robertson’s first All Blacks squad.

Scott Robertson has a rebuilding job ahead of him with the All Blacks. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

I’ve battled with the idea of Perenara as an All Black, over the years.

I looked at the game the team tried to play with Aaron Smith as the starting scrumhalf and wondered why they persevered with Perenara.

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Where one was fleet of foot and pass, the other was pedestrian. Where one epitomised the dynamic, fast-paced football the All Blacks sought to play, the other slowed it down.

As one, two punches went, it often seemed a strange one.

But, with Smith gone, I just can’t see a reason why Perenara shouldn’t be the man to replace him.

It’s simply a matter of competitiveness and workrate.

I covered some reasonable Hurricanes teams over the years. But there were definitely times, once Beauden Barrett was gone and whenever Dane Coles was out injured, that it seemed like Perenara and Ardie Savea were playing the opposition on their own.

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That their win-at-all-costs mentality was all that was keeping the side from a descent into mediocrity.

If Perenara’s Hurricanes teammate Cam Roigard were available to contest the All Blacks’ No.9 jumper, then I might have a different view. But he’s not and I can’t see past Perenara as the best option.

Not least because, in the absence of Richie Mo’unga, Barrett looms as New Zealand’s most reliable first five-eighth.

Could TJ Perenara link up with Beauden Barrett once again? (Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Again, I have had mixed feelings about the Perenara and Barrett combination over the years.

There were times, for all their public mateship, when I thought Barrett would be better off without Perenara.

That having a halfback who could pass crisply – or didn’t have a run-first mentality to quick ruck ball – might benefit the brilliant Barrett.

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But this is a pick your poison situation and I’m certainly more enthused about Perenara and Barrett, than I would be, say, a partnership between Finlay Christie and Damian McKenzie.

After all, if anyone knows how to work with Perenara’s shortcomings, then it’s Barrett.

I also don’t want to be too hard on Perenara here.

One of the great advantages to being at games is getting the opportunity to see what players actually do.

Television cameras can only show you so much.

Often you genuinely have to be there to appreciate how much individual players contribute to the overall performance.

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Even now, as he showed against the Chiefs on Saturday, Perenara is an incredible asset to the Hurricanes.

We all know how much experience the All Blacks have lost in the wake of last year’s Rugby World Cup final and that makes Perenara more valuable than ever.

The other opportunity that covering a team affords you, is a front row seat at training.

TJ Perenara joined level with Julian Savea as Super Rugby’s greatest tryscorer and scoring twice against the Chiefs at Sky Stadium, on April 13, 2024, in Wellington. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Perenara’s talk and work ethic always stood out, in those settings. The extras he did and the skill-execution games he played against teammates were striking.

As much as he wanted to win, Perenara hated to lose. I suspect a lot of players don’t hate losing quite as much as they should. Certainly not as much as Perenara does.

But when he wasn’t having to win everything at training, Perenara was also helping others.

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I never saw him offer the tight five too many tips, but he’d always be locked in conversation with backs and loose forwards about where they should be and what they should do.

Kicking, catching, angles of attack, defensive reads; he’d offer considered advice and tutelage on them all.

The man is a leader and the All Blacks need leadership right now.

He also remains a hell of an all round rugby player.

Sure, his game has flaws, but he continues to make up for them in all the effort areas.

I know there are those who feel Perenara’s time in the All Blacks should be over, but I simply don’t think Robertson can overlook a competitor of his kind.

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