Folau Fakatava's injury has 'opened the door' for Brad Weber and TJ Perenara
Brad Weber will make his return to the international arena on for the first time this year on Saturday when the All Blacks take on Wales in Cardiff.
The 31-year-old halfback had been an ever-present member of the side since 2016 but missed out on selection for New Zealand’s July series as well as the Rugby Championship, with Ian Foster plumping for two young guns to back-up Aaron Smith in the forms of Finlay Christie and Folau Fakatava.
While Christie made his Test debut last year, Fakatava was a new addition to the mix, and their inclusions alongside Smith saw Weber and fellow experienced operator TJ Perenara relegated from the squad.
Both halfbacks featured for the Maori All Blacks in mid-week fixtures against Ireland in July and were also selected in the inaugural All Blacks XV side which is currently touring Europe but a season-ending injury to Fakatava has seen Weber re-join the national side for their end-of-year tour, and his return to top-flight rugby will take another step forward at the Principality Stadium this weekend after being named on the bench.
“He’s played really well,” Foster said of Weber this week. “That 9 position was a tough selection [at the beginning of the season]. We really felt this was a year we wanted to have a good look at Folau in this camp and I guess he knocked out a couple of pretty experienced campaigners.
“With his injury, it’s opened the door for Brad and also TJ. TJ will be playing in the [All Blacks XV] this weekend and Brad with us.”
Foster didn’t have any specific advice for Weber regarding Saturday’s clash, simply noting that the Chiefs and Hawke’s Bay representative has been performing on the field already this season.
“[He needs to] just carry on doing what he’s doing,” the head coach said. “We’ve given him a couple of things we wanted him to tidy up on. He’s a quality person and we kind of felt, look, he’s here, so we might as well get him in there.”
Christie was given the No 9 jersey for last weekend’s match with Japan and somewhat flattered to deceive – although it wouldn’t surprise to see the 27-year-old given another opportunity off the bench in the All Blacks’ remaining tour games against Scotland and England following Saturday’s skirmish in Cardiff.
Perenara, meanwhile, will don the starting halfback duties – and vice-captaincy responsibilities – for the All Blacks XV in Friday evening’s fixture against Ireland A while 21-year-old Cam Roigard will provide back-up off the bench.
With Fakatava likely to make a return to the field during next year’s Super Rugby Pacific season, the selectors could again struggle to whittle down their halfbacks to just three selections ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
In the meantime, however, Weber will be eager to remind Foster and co that he’s still a strong option for the flagship tournament.
Saturday’s match is due to kick off at 3:15pm GMT.
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