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New coach and new 'competition' to challenge Cam Roigard in 2024

By Ned Lester
(Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

The halfback race is heating up in Wellington with the impending return of 80-cap All Black TJ Perenara set to push World Cup sensation Cam Roigard for selection in the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season.

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Perenara missed the entire 2023 Super season after rupturing his Achilles during the All Blacks‘ 2022 Northern Tour. In his place, the young Roigard thrived in the starting unit.

The 22-year-old had a breakthrough year with the Hurricanes, building upon strong NPC and All Blacks XV showings to take the jump into Rugby World Cup squad contention.

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Roigard offered the national team a different kind of skillset at No 9, with an eager eye to snipe around the ruck and a booming left boot. The youngster’s size also offered an additional presence at the breakdown on both sides of the ball.

Former All Blacks coach Ian Foster was clearly tempted by the form of his rookie on rugby’s biggest stage, but ultimately selected Finlay Christie as the Robin to Aaron Smith’s Batman in the knockout stages.

“We think Finlay’s got an edge defensively,” Foster said ahead of the mammoth quarter-final Test against Ireland.

So, Roigard is no stranger to the fight to earn his place, and incoming Hurricanes coach Clark Laidlaw hopes the competition of the veteran Perenara will bring the best out of both players.

“It’s always a luxury to have competition for places,” he said, as reported by Stuff. “To win big games and competitions, you need good nines, good 10s, and good decision-makers.

“To have two All Blacks in the same position is a massive plus. Is TJ competitive? Yeah, but so is Cam. He’s not going to be resting on his laurels. He’s got big goals for his future and what the next four years look like for him.

“Them working together, getting the best out of each other, alongside Richard Judd and we’ve got young Jordi Viljoen from Manawat? coming in behind that. That’s one position we’re really fortunate to have some real strength.”

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If the defensive side of the ball is Roigard’s biggest work on, there is no better veteran presence than TJ Perenara. Defence has been a pillar of the 31-year-old’s career at every level of the game.

Roigard will face additional challenges for the national setup from his fellow young halfbacks across the Super Rugby competition, as a couple of legends vacate their familiar teams for overseas contracts.

The injury-prone but undeniable talent of Folau Fakatava is set to inherit the Highlanders’ No 9 jersey after some valuable years of mentorship under Aaron Smith. Meanwhile in Roigard’s home province of Waikato, the man who ultimately forced Roigard to switch allegiances to find a playing opportunity is ready to step into the starting role vacated by Brad Weber.

Cortez Ratima was consistently heralded as the best prospect in the region, pushing Roigard to leave home and pursue an opportunity with Counties Manukau in the NPC. Ratima has made a huge impression with his passing accuracy and well-rounded game, making an All Blacks XV debut in 2022.

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Finlay Christie also maintains his rein at the Blues while in Crusader country, 2023 New Zealand U20 product Noah Hotham looks ahead of schedule in his bid for a starting role.

Hotham will head to Europe in January with the Crusaders as the reigning Super Rugby Pacific champions take on Munster and Bristol as preseason exhibitions.

The Blues and Chiefs are also in line for international preseason fixtures, heading to Japan to play Rugby League One opponents in what is expected to become a frequent – and lucrative – annual occurrence.

Roigard and Perenara though will be staying put, with Laidlaw prioritising time at home ahead of the 2024 campaign.

“We’re bunkering down in Upper Hutt,” Laidlaw said. “Some teams have the opportunity to head overseas, but I genuinely think we don’t need that at the minute.

“We’re a new group, and we’re on the road for the first two weeks of the season in Australia. We don’t need to be on the road longer for that.

“We also have two games [overseas] back-to-back in the middle of the season, so our team bonding and time on the road will come.”

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Andrew 223 days ago

Perenara is a small 7 pretending to be a 9. La Rochelle saw that when they had the choice of him or Kerr Barlow after 2015. TJ will now be Roigards understudy and CR will be the ABs top 9 with Fakatava and Ratima as the other squad 9s. Razor wont be in the slightest interested in FC or TJ.

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