Out with the old, in with the new. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the much contested All Blacks halfback jersey. In what was a bit of a surprise-but-really-not-a-surprise call, Steve Hansen and co. opted to leave Piri Weepu out of the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship, choosing instead to blood 21 year old Hurricanes & Wellington Lions halfback, TJ Perenara.
So who is the ‘fresh meat’ in the All Blacks #9 jersey, you ask?
TJ (Thomas Tekanapu Rawakata) Perenara was born 23 January 1992, making him a whole 21 years old. Wellington born and bred, TJ starred in and captained the New Zealand Secondary Schools team, then went on to make his debut for the Wellington Lions ITM Cup team in 2010. In 2011 he was a part of the victorious NZ Under 20’s World Cup squad and in 2012 made his Super XV debut for the Hurricanes against the Force. His debut was a very memorable one – he went on to score a hat trick of tries – and from that first game was a stand out player for the Hurricanes. Some people had TJ picked as a surprise addition for the All Blacks end of year tour, but his season instead came to an abrupt end, when he broke his ankle in June 2012, during a non-competition match between the Hurricanes and Reds on the Sunshine Coast.
Perenara was back for the Hurricanes for the 2013 Super Rugby season, and was again a stand out performer for the team. To date TJ has 29 caps and 14 tries for the Hurricanes. Not a bad try scoring average!
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Sunday, that Perenara (along with Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr Barlow) made the squad ahead of Piri Weepu because “put simply, that trio are able to get from point A to B to C quicker than Weepu, who was pulled from the field early in the third test against France in June after struggling with his passing and running game”.
There is a touch of irony to Perenara taking Weepu’s place in the squad, because Piri Weepu acted as a mentor for Perenara, before he left the Hurricanes to play for the Blues. Obviously Perenara learnt from one of the best – but has now over taken him – possibly a tough pill for Weepu to swallow!
TJ demonstrates an amazing ability to ‘make something out of nothing’, and has both speedy feet and speedy hands. He seems to be able to look forward a few phases and has an uncanny knack of predicting where the holes will be, both to send himself, or his fellow backs through.
As well as being a quality halfback, Perenara is also a talented goal-kicker, so if called upon could provide another kicking option for the All Blacks. Considering he is only 21, there is the potential for the name TJ Perenara to become as common place in international rugby circles, as Dan Carter or Richie McCaw.
While the future prospects for certain positions within the All Blacks aren’t clear yet, one thing IS clear, and that is that TJ Perenara has a long career in the black jersey, ahead of him.