So talented a player is TJ Perenara that the halfback was often called upon throughout last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to shift into the No 10 jersey late in matches.
New Zealand fans got their first real taste of Perenara playing at first receiver during the 2019 World Cup when the former Hurricanes captain took over from Jordie Barrett in the final minutes of the All Blacks’ clash with Namibia. Perenara, in a confident display, went on to touch down for the score that was eventually awarded World Rugby Try of the Year.
Nothing quite as flashy eventuated at the Hurricanes – but it was hard to find fault in Perenara’s performances in the back-end of matches.
With the Porirua man now plying his trade in Japan, at least for the current season, Hurricanes coach Jason Holland has needed to find a replacement for Perenara not just in the No 9 jersey, but also as cover for the pivotal first five role.
Ahead of Saturday’s match with the Blues, Holland has seemingly revealed his hand, giving former Chiefs halfback Jonathan Taumateine the first chance to prove his worth wearing No 9, while his pick for the back up No 10 is also a sensible choice.
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“I’m excited for JT,” Holland told media following the team announcement. “He’s earned [the start] and it’s been a great old battle. We’ve got three 9s in the squad who have worked really hard over this pre-season and done everything we’ve asked of them.”
Taumateine was going toe-to-toe with his Counties Manukau protege as well as Bay of Plenty’s Luke Campbell for the starting berth. As the only one of the three with Super Rugby experience, Taumateine may have had a head start on his teammates – but pre-season was always likely to be the decider.
Evidently, Taumateine has impressed Holland with the chances he’s had and the improvements he’s made to his game.
“JT’s getting in and clearing the ball really well now and he’s a threat around the ruck as well, being able to go through the ruck and around the ruck is important for us in the way the game is being played these days,” Holland said. “He’s nailed his 9 skills and adds a little bit around his running game.”
Taumateine himself never assumed that the No 9 jersey was a given, despite his relative experience. He’ll partner Jackson Garden-Bachop in the halves while Campbell covers halfback from the bench.
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Despite Simon Hickey, the only other out-and-out first five in the squad, succumbing to a season-ending injury during the pre-season, Holland hasn’t called up a replacement – though youngster Ruben Love has plenty of experience at lower levels of the game wearing No 10.
It sounds like Love is more likely to feature at fullback, however, with Mr Fix-It Jordie Barrett anointed flyhalf cover. Could Barrett be thrust into the playmaker role this weekend?
“It’s a possibility,” Holland revealed. “I know we did a little bit with TJ at the back-end of last year. Look, we’ll see. We’ve got another couple of good little boys who can play 15 as well. Everything’s an option but Jacko’s the main 10 at the moment … Jordie’s the next option there.”
The Hurricanes host the Blues on Saturday night with the match kicking off at 7:05pm NZT. The game will be broadcast on RugbyPass in the UK as well as parts of Europe and Asia.
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