Rugby: Perenara right on Smith's shoulder

By Daniel Richardson

Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara made life difficult for Aaron Smith on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images
Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara made life difficult for Aaron Smith on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images

If Aaron Smith looks over his shoulder at the All Blacks' training camp during the next few days, he will probably see TJ Perenara.

There's no doubting Smith is the premier halfback in the country but Perenara sent his rival a strong message on Friday night he is going to challenge him for his All Black jersey.

Smith's Highlanders might have edged the Hurricanes 18-16 at Westpac Stadium but Perenara was the better No9 on show.

The 22-year-old, who was a regular All Blacks squad member last year but never managed to crack a test debut, scored the only try of the game and nearly found a late match-winner before the TMO disagreed.

Perenara said he didn't come into the contest targeting a big performance against Smith but some of his best efforts in the past have come against fellow Kiwi halfbacks.

In 2012, all of Perenara's skills were on display when he powered the Hurricanes to a 35-19 win over the Blues and showed veteran Piri Weepu what the new breed could do.

"I think playing against Kiwi teams, you might get up for it a little bit more," Perenara said. "You want to be the best team in the competition, obviously, but when you play people you've played with and you know quite well, you always want to beat that team."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said during the week there were "rough edges" to Perenara's game.

He will likely be scrapping for a place on the bench with Tawera Kerr-Barlow for next month's series against England with Smith set to start.

Perenara's kicking game is still inconsistent but he produced one deft chip in the second half on Friday night which earned the Hurricanes a 5m scrum after it was carried back by ... Smith.

The battle began much earlier in the game and late in the first half, when Smith was trying to clear the ball from a defensive scrum, Perenara knocked the ball out of his rival's hands and dotted down for a try.

There was a case to argue that he propelled it forward in forcing it from Smith's grasp but the TMO was on the Hurricanes' side and Perenara said it would provide a good talking point during the three-day All Blacks' training camp, which begins in Christchurch today.

"I might give him a little bit of stick," Perenara said with a grin. "But out there, he gave me a little bit of stick about it. We are good mates and it's just good banter."

On a more serious note, that loss has made the Hurricanes' charge for a play-off berth a lot tougher.

They've got four games left, all against New Zealand opposition, and will now have to rely on other results going their way on top of needing to win their remaining matches, starting with the Chiefs in Wellington next Saturday night.

- APNZ

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