Despite an almost 230-cap deficit in professional rugby matches, 21-year-old halfback Xavier Roe narrowly had the better of his opposite TJ Perenara in Saturday’s Mitre 10 Cup clash between Waikato and Wellington.

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Perenara, an experienced All Black and a Super Rugby centurion, was playing just his second game for Wellington since 2014. Roe, recently transferred from Taranaki, was playing his first game for Waikato ever.

Leading into the match, Roe knew he would be coming up against an All Black – but that didn’t impact the 2018 Under 20s representative’s performance.

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“A couple of people had talked to me earlier in the week saying, ‘It’s going to be a tough matchup’, but once I got there I kind of just focused on my game, didn’t really notice him too much,” Roe told Stuff following the game.

“But obviously it’s awesome going up against one of the best halfbacks in the world.”

Roe managed a try and an assist but it was the way he mixed up his game that would have impressed his coaches. Perenara, despite being a key cog in a number of the Hurricanes’ scores, probably stood out more for his chirping throughout the match.

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Roe admitted that he himself wasn’t exactly a quiet player either, however.

“I always go out there to try and be a bit chirpy and get the boys up,” he said. “That’s what I like about being a halfback, you can always get up on the forwards, bringing a bit of energy and a bit of fizz doesn’t go astray.

“I definitely don’t shy away from any kind of challenge, stand my ground.

“There was no sledging or anything out there, it was just all good fun.”

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There’s no shortage of quality, experienced halfbacks running around in the Mitre 10 Cup this season, especially when the All Blacks are available to play for their provinces.

“It’s good to get a bit of confidence under my belt because there’s going to be Bryn Hall this weekend as well, he’s going to be another tough opponent. So I’m looking forward to it.

North Harbour’s Hall has 76 Super Rugby caps to his name (and almost as many for his home province) and was an All Blacks tourist in 2018, although never made it onto the pitch. Hall be just one more challenge for Roe to overcome this year – and you can’t be the best without beating the best.

Speaking of the best halfbacks, Roe said Aaron Smith was the man he looked up to and tried to model his game off.

“I love watching him – his delivery of his pass, and he’s not afraid to have a go as well.”

Unfortunately, the 21-year-old probably won’t get the chance to line up against Smith in the Mitre 10 Cup, with Waikato and Manawatu not set to play each other this season. Even if the fixture were on the cards, it’s likely that Smith would be unavailable due to All Blacks commitments.

If Roe can keep performing to the same high standard he set in the opening round of the competition, however, he may get the opportunity to face off with his idol in Super Rugby next season.

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