'That like-for-like is similar': Why Weber has the wood over Perenara
The absence of Aaron Smith in the touring squad will offer the chance for a new halfback to start for the All Blacks, with Brad Weber, TJ Perenara and Finlay Christie jostling for a chance to play the Wallabies in Perth.
While Perenara has deputised for Smith during most of his career, the Hurricanes halfback recently returned from the Japan Top League and played club rugby to become eligible again for the All Blacks.
His lack of time this season in New Zealand may play against his selection, with Chiefs halfback Weber in fine form throughout Super Rugby and when he has been given his chances this year by Ian Foster.
Speaking on this week’s Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall weighed into the debate, predicting that it will be Weber who gets the nod in Perth to partner with Beauden Barrett in the halves.
“I think, for me, Brad [Weber] has played pretty well,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel.
“He’s consistent when he’s given his opportunities, he played that Tonga game and yes, obviously the Tongans weren’t up to what the Australians, South Africans or Argentinians will be, but Brad’s played well in Super Rugby and was one of the form halfbacks in the competition.
“That’s nothing … against TJ [Perenara], but if you are basing it on performances throughout the year, I’d say Brad is the frontrunner in that department.
“Also, he’s very similar to Nuggy [Aaron Smith], he gets the ball out very, very quick, he has a good running game when given the opportunity when it’s quick ball.
“That like-for-like is similar for Brad and Nuggy.
“But TJ hasn’t played enough. They may have seen enough of Brad, and now might be a good opportunity to see TJ, but I think TJ plays really well off the bench and he’s done that a number of times.”
The competition for the halfback job will be tough over the next few years heading into the World Cup in France as all three players, Weber, Perenara and Smith, have signed contracts with the NZR until 2023.
For 30-year-old Weber, persistence has been key. After debuting for the All Blacks in 2015, his appearances were few and far between in the black jersey. Faced with the arrival of Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi at the Chiefs, Weber battled to retain his starting spot at Super Rugby level.
Blues hooker James Parsons credited his determination in reviving his New Zealand career back around to push himself into All Blacks contention again.
“The one thing I love about Brad is he backs himself, he fell out of the All Black mix after his debut but he’s fought his way back through determination in his performance and delivering time and time again,” Parsons said.
“The other thing is, I love what his teams mean to him.
“One of his big reasons to stay was to get a hundy for the Chiefs. All those things factoring in played a part and because he’s got that belief in his game, he believes he’ll be there at World Cup time.”
Just whether he will be at another World Cup is yet to be determined, where the squad will likely include three halfbacks. It is one of the most competitive positions in the country Parsons said, with a great deal of depth.
“Let’s make no bones about it, that’s probably one of the hardest positions that need to be chosen. You’ve got Aaron there, you got TJ, you got Brad, we know we’ve got Folau Fakatava once he’s back from his ACL injury, who is going from strength to strength.
“Mitch Drummond’s been with the All Blacks, Bryn’s been fighting out with him.
“It’s one position where you can keep going on and on, and now we’ve got Finlay Christie whose popped up and taken every opportunity he’s had in that black jersey.”
Earlier this week the Crusaders announced they had signed Tahuriorangi to bolster their halfback spots. Once Weber’s rival at the Chiefs, the man known as ‘Triple T’ will be in direct competition with Bryn Hall, something that the current Crusaders halfback had no qualms about, having been in Tahuriorangi’s position earlier in his career.
“I think anytime you get a guy of that calibre coming down, not just to the Crusaders but any team, it’s a blessing,” Hall said of the signing.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Triple T in the Maoris environment. It’s a great opportunity for him.
“He was obviously at the Hurricanes first, going back as a young fella and learnt under TJ, then went to the Chiefs and was then with the All Blacks as the third halfback for a time there.
“Unfortunately Brad’s played really well the last couple of years, they went hammer and tongs, and then Xavier Roe is now in that environment.
“I look at my career, I captained the Blues and played the first part of my career there and then took a chance to go somewhere else and really grew my game.
“I felt like going down to the Crusaders was a great environment for me, and it really helped me so I look at Te Toiroa and it’s a great opportunity for him.
“We’ve had a competitive environment, we had Ere Enari here for four years, who captained the New Zealand under-20s programme and grew his game, and just by the fact that Drummy and myself push each other every week, it kinda didn’t happen for him.
“Anytime you can add depth to that position, especially an All Black, it’s going to be great for us as halfbacks.”
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