Nigel Yalden: Why not start TJ Perenara?

By Nigel Yalden

Let TJ Perenara loose in the No 9 jersey. Photo / Getty Images
Let TJ Perenara loose in the No 9 jersey. Photo / Getty Images

TJ Perenara's test match resurgence has been a delightfully pleasing aspect of this impressive All Blacks season to date.

After being included in the squad for the June internationals solely as injury cover for Tawera Kerr-Barlow, the very man who cantered past him to claim the backup role to Aaron Smith at last year's Rugby World Cup, the Hurricanes vice-captain has emphatically reclaimed the spot as second best halfback in New Zealand.

In doing so, he's nibbled slightly away at Aaron Smith's advantage at the front of the field while putting several lengths gap between himself and Kerr-Barlow in third, courtesy of an excellent last four months at Super Rugby and International level.

Those test efforts, highlighted by a simple yet impactful outing when replacing an out of sorts and frustrated Smith against Argentina in Hamilton, have all come off the bench.

The timing seems right to see whether Perenara's international reinvigoration-by-simplification can be as effective as a starting halfback.

His confidence is high, he knows what he has to do to best benefit the team and his execution in those key roles has improved markedly.

Yeah, yeah ... I hear them; Steve Hansen and Ian Foster in unison saying "how many times do we have to tell you Nige, we don't make changes for changes sake".

Well in addition to the "we don't make changes for changes sake" line gentleman, you're pretty fond of "we know what this bloke can do, but we also need to find out if the other blokes can do it too" and you've also collectively spoken about managing workloads in the last fortnight.

Starting Perenara satisfies the first statement because it matches the second as well as the third given Aaron Smith has played a heck of a lot of rugby this season.

He's started all sixteen of his games for the Highlanders, missing only the round 15 clash with the lowly Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, and averaging 75 minutes per game. (NB - Perenara played all 18 games for the 'Canes at a slightly lower average 71 minutes per outing)

However during the seven All Black internationals this season, all of which he has started; Smith's played an average of 64 minutes per test, while Peranara has played 105 minutes in six tests; under a quarter of Smith's 448 minutes spent on the field.

By the way, I'm not suggesting giving Aaron Smith the week off either.

He clearly possesses the most extraordinarily reservoir of energy and enthusiasm.

So how good would it be have him come hissing off the bench with 25 to 30 to go in Buenos Aires this Sunday morning?

It's not a bad option to have "the best half back in the world" - your words again Steve not mine (though I completely agree with them) - as the back-up.

The other benefit to starting Perenara in tandem with Hurricanes co-hort Beauden Barrett this week would be the selectors could either rest Barrett or use him off the bench next week in Durban whilst pairing up Aaron Smith with his Highlanders running mate Lima Sopoaga.

That's because sometimes "it's about combinations".

You can make cases for giving plenty of incumbents a week off and looking at the next option but for mine, the Smith/Perenara swap is the most compelling of all of them.

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