Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Perenara - don't become a Smith clone

TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

It's the Highlanders v the Hurricanes tomorrow, a clash of last year's finalists and also two high-quality halfbacks.

This is a very good opportunity for TJ Perenara to test himself against arguably the best halfback in the world last year in Aaron Smith. Both teams lost last weekend so there's already a bit of spice in it, and a match-up between the two No 9s will be as fiercely contested as any in Dunedin.

With Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Andy Ellis, and possibly Bryn Hall all in the chasing pack, Perenara must take his chances in a match the All Black selectors will be watching closely.

He has the physical attributes and skillset, and that's what he should put his faith in, rather than attempting to be a Smith clone.

He also has the captain's role this year, an added level of responsibility which could help his game.

I know what it's like to be judged against others. I was often compared to Graeme Bachop, a fellow Crusader and All Black, and I knew I was no Graeme Bachop. I couldn't do some of the things he could do, just as I did some things better than him.

Trying to copy another player can be a trap and I hope TJ hasn't been told he needs to be more like Smith. He just has to be himself, in my opinion, and his game will grow accordingly, a better result for him and one which could push Smith on to higher levels too.

Smith, clearly, is the incumbent, something else I was used to as a player. I was always aware that Byron Kelleher and Junior Tonu'u were chasing, just as guys like Joost van der Westhuizen from South Africa were trying to put one over me. Kiwis wanted your jersey and international players wanted the chance to test themselves against All Blacks.

Smith is close to being the benchmark as a halfback and when you're at that stage of your career it brings with it responsibility and added pressure. If you're one of the best players in your position the opposition are going to analyse and look to shut you down. That keeps you on edge.

It's a compliment to the way he plays the game but he's also got to be aware he needs to stay ahead of the pack, something he has done over the last two years. Perenara tomorrow will be the first of many this season coming to Dunedin wanting to prove a point.

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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