Jonathan Taumateine is set for a tough introduction as he begins a new halfback era for the Hurricanes in a heavyweight Super Rugby Aotearoa battle.
Taumateine will wear the number nine jersey in tonight's match against the Blues at Sky Stadium in Wellington - his first start for the Wellington-based franchise.
He takes the spot vacated by TJ Perenara, who is in Japan for a short stay with the NTT Red Hurricanes in the Top League. With expected incumbent Jamie Booth injured with a broken leg, it paves the way for Taumateine to stake his claim as Perenara's successor.
The 24-year-old can't help but feel a bit nervous.
"There's always going to be a bit of pressure. I guess I'm just humbled and happy to be out there in that nine jersey," Taumateine says.
"There's been a good group around me, so likes of Nuns [Ngani Laumape], Jules [Julian Savea], Ards [Ardie Savea], it just makes my job a lot easier. Just go out there, enjoy the moment and do my job for the team."
Taumateine will have plenty of notes to revise over in his first start, having backed up Perenara twice in 2020 – coming off the bench against the Sunwolves and in the Aotearoa finale against the Highlanders.
He also made 12 appearances for the Chiefs from 2017 to 2019.
"For me last year was just keep working hard and keep learning, even if I'm not playing, I'm trying to prepare the boys that are playing," he says.
Taumateine will be tasked with forming a productive 9-10 combination with Jackson Garden-Bachop, who for the second consecutive year is the leading first-five option for the Hurricanes. The duo will be under pressure to perform given their relative lack of experience compared to their Kiwi rivals, but Taumateine says their relationship is already building well.
"We've had a few coffees together which is good. He's an easy bloke to get along with, we just happen to click."
Tonight the Auckland native will have to prove his worth against a competition front-runner in the Blues. Despite the departure of Beauden Barrett to Japan, the Auckland franchise welcomes back Stephen Perofeta at fullback, who missed all of Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020 due to a fractured foot. They also have 29-cap All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala starting in the front row, who's arrived from the Chiefs.
Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea, who will wear the armband for the first time in 2021, has provided some advice for Taumateine.
"[We've] obviously lost some club legends like TJ, but it opens the gateway for young brothers to come through and be able to shine. For JT, he's been in the environment for many years.
"We've just encouraged him to go be himself, it's his team – run us round, tell us what to, doesn't matter if you're talking to me or anyone, you boss us around."
Hurricanes v Blues - Tonight, 7.05pm, Sky Stadium
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonathan Taumateine, Devan Flanders, Ardie Savea (c), Vaea Fifita, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Alex Fidow, Reed Prinsep, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Luke Campbell, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Salesi Rayasi.
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Sam Nock, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, James Lay
Reserves: Luteru Tolai, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson, Adrian Choat, Jonathan Ruru, Tanielu Tele'a.