Australian Nic Berry, the referee assigned to the Crusaders v Hurricanes semifinal in Christchurch on Saturday, is an official who will not lack for advice during the 80 minutes and in particular from visiting halfback TJ Perenara, one half of a partnership that the home side will fear the most.

Noticeable even over the television broadcast last weekend of the Hurricanes' 35-28 victory over the Bulls in Wellington was how much Perenara talked to referee Berry – not in breaks of play but as play continued – and it was reminiscent of the No 9's performance against the Blues at Eden Park this season when he was in ref Nick Bryant's ears to the extent the official told him to give it a rest in the end.

It can be a fine line but Perenara tiptoes on the right side of it better than most due to his experience and it's that time on the field, especially alongside first-five Beauden Barrett, that the Crusaders are most wary of because it's perhaps the only area they can't match.

The pair played their 100th Super Rugby game together last weekend, an incredible achievement, and a feat which has obvious advantages for the Hurricanes in terms of their understanding and confidence as a crucial partnership.


The Crusaders have superb leadership in the form of Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read, among others, but while their halfbacks Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond are extremely useful operators who complement each other, they don't have the ability to influence a referee like Perenara, who seemed to get away with being blatantly offside when defending scrums against the Blues last month via his force of personality alone.

TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett at a media session before their 100th game for the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty
TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett at a media session before their 100th game for the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty

Together, Perenara and Barrett are a formidable pair, as Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O'Gara, a former Ireland first-five who earned 130 test caps, admitted today.

"Obviously I'm a big admirer of Beauden Barrett - I have been for a long time," he said. "He's a fantastic player and competitor and so is TJ Perenara, so to play 100 games together from my point of view – I think people underestimate how hard that is to do. So much preparation goes into it – that's something they've achieved so they probably have an advantage in experience over our No 9 and No 10.

"We have two No 9s on top of their game at the minute and we have Richie [Mo'unga] who has been on top of his game for a long time. He's looking to dethrone Beaudy, but Beaudy has the advantage of being a superstar at test level. I think Richie can get to that space so it makes for an exciting game."

It's clear Mo'unga and Barrett, two players who shone last weekend, are set to be define this repeat of last year's semifinal. In scoring 23 points, including two tries, in his team's 38-14 win over the Highlanders, Mo'unga again pushed his claim as New Zealand's premier playmaker.

But O'Gara again stressed caution as far as the Crusaders' recent success in shutting down Barrett is concerned.

"That's probably the short perception of it, but I think for that to happen you need to win up front, it's as simple as that," he said. "If you win the collisions and if you win the gain line, no matter how good you are as a No 10 your time is diminished significantly and our boys have done a good job in that regard in previous campaigns. But when the ball is in Beauden Barrett's hands it's not a good sign for any opposition."

Crusaders and All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty said: "He's a world class player, as simple as that, and they've got quite a few of them across the park."