Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Playing the waiting game

While he is yet to see test match action, TJ Perenara insists he has had a great learning experience on tour. Photo / Getty Images
While he is yet to see test match action, TJ Perenara insists he has had a great learning experience on tour. Photo / Getty Images

He is the only All Black on tour yet to make his debut yet halfback TJ Perenara believes his wait to wear the black jersey, while a little frustrating, will help him in the long run.

Known for his explosive running game, Perenara believes his greatest strength is also his main weakness. Cut off that part of his game, he says, and he has a tendency to struggle.

There is no better place, therefore, to work on the No 9's core skills of pass and kick than in an All Black environment which is obsessed with improvement.

The Hurricanes player, who burst on to the scene last year, broke his left ankle in a friendly match during the June break in 2012 and, while he wasn't affected by his injury in this year's Super Rugby season, a stress fracture in the same area, caused by over-training, ruled him out of the Rugby Championship.

Now back to full fitness and presumably a candidate for the final All Blacks tour game against Ireland in Dublin next Monday morning, Perenara took time out in London to reflect on his year so far and his waiting brief behind Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, two players he believes are at the top of their game.

Compounding his itchy feet must be the way relative newcomer Charles Piutau has taken his limited opportunities on the wing.

"It is bittersweet. It's awesome seeing the boys excel and take their opportunities and play the way they've been playing but as a footy player and athlete, you want to be playing every single game," Perenara says. "It doesn't matter which team you're in. But I wouldn't change it. I think the environment that I'm in, it's doing nothing but help me grow as a player and as a person. It's challenging.

"The way I look at it, the All Blacks are the best team in the world and it shouldn't be easy to play for them. You shouldn't be picked straight away, you should have to graft your way through. As hard as it is for me to not be playing, it is the best team in the world, they are the best two halfbacks in the world, and I've got to keep trying to be better than them. It's only a good thing for our country and our team.

"I've learned a lot actually, a lot about myself and a lot about footy. I guess not playing, I've learned a lot more about the game.

"I've played a lot of footy and not really thought about the game and the way the game is being played ... about, I guess, the fundamentals of rugby itself."

The willingness of the 21-year-old, a product of Porirua's Mana College, to push himself this season resulted in a stress fracture which he says was also valuable in a way.

"I was trying to push myself further and further ... it was a hard lesson to learn that sometimes I have to listen to my body and get my fitness in other ways."

Which brings us back to Perenara's running game. Seen as someone who will eventually overtake Smith and Kerr-Barlow due to the X-factor he brings to the position, he is not getting ahead of himself.

"It's probably one of the things that got me where I am but it's also a weakness. My core skills of passing and kicking are probably not as good as most other halfbacks.

"The higher you get in your footy, the better the opposition get and the better they can read you. If you don't have anything else, they shut down your running game and then your passing and kicking game is ineffective as well.

"It's one of the things I've been working on a lot over the past four or five months - my core roles of passing, kicking and decision-making. When I get the opportunity to run, that's when I have to take it ... I can't go into a game forcing it."

- APNZ

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