When the Hurricanes made back to back finals appearance in Super Rugby, it was on the back of some exceptional performances from the halves pairing of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett.
That’s not to downplay the work of the other squad members, but no two players were more important to the Hurricanes’ fortunes in 2015 and 2016 then All Blacks Perenara and Barrett.
Last year, following Barrett’s switch to the Blues, the Hurricanes trialled both Jackson Garden-Bachop and Fletcher Smith in the key playmaker jersey.
While Garden-Bachop made a good fist of things in the No 10 jersey, he certainly didn’t provide the X-factor, control or poise that two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Barrett offered. Garden-Bachop will again be tasked with leading the side at flyhalf this year while former Blues and Edinburgh pivot Simon Hickey has also joined the cause at the capital – but both players are still a far cry from Barrett, who will spend the season in Japan.
2020 was tough at times for the Hurricanes without Barrett running the cutter but they were still able to depend on Perenara to guide the backline around. Things will get a little tougher in 2021, with the second-most capped halfback in Super Rugby history also heading to Japan for a one-off season in the Top League.
Manawatu’s Jamie Booth backed-up Perenara last year and was turning heads with some impressive performances off the bench, but a leg injury suffered during the Mitre 10 Cup season means that Booth won’t be sighted until late in the Hurricanes’ campaign.
Instead, the 2016 champions will depend on inexperienced options Luke Campbell and Jonathan Taumateine.
All in all, it’s hard to predict what to expect from the Hurricanes halves pairing in 2021, which could be an Achilles Heel in a side that boasts plenty of depth in other positions.
Speaking on Sky Sports’ The Conversation podcast, head coach Jason Holland acknowledged that replacing Barrett and Perenara will be an ongoing challenge for the team.
“Obviously, [Barrett and Perenara play] two pretty critical positions in the game of footy,” said Holland. “When Beaudie went, everybody thought we were under the pump and you know, you work with the boys and grow confidence.
“Both our 10s this year, Jacko and Simon Hickey … I’m really confident in their ability to run a week and run a game plan and run a game. But it’s all about confidence and giving guys the answers to if we see this problem, this is how we’re going to fix it or this is how we’re going to play well, this is all you need to do.
“So I think it’s really simplifying the game for these boys, the 9s and the 10s. But you know, we’ve got some pretty good boys, you’ve got your Nganis [Laumape] and you’ve got your Jordies [Barrett] and you’ve got your Ardies [Savea] around them. It’s an opportunity for these boys and I’m looking forward to seeing that there are some pretty good heads here that just need some time in the saddle.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 6, 2021
While the Hurricanes won’t be the only team fielding a relatively junior flyhalf in 2021, with the Chiefs likely to hand 21-year-old Kaleb Trask the duties once more, every other side in the competition boasts experienced halfbacks.
The Blues’ Sam Nock and Finlay Christie have played over 30 caps apiece while the Chiefs can call upon two All Blacks, Brad Weber and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. Further south, the Crusaders’ pair of Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond will both reach centurion status in 2021 – something that Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith achieved in 2017.
If the Hurricanes combo – whatever Holland fields – can control the game well, however, then the Hurricanes’ backs will be tough to contain, with the likes of Laumape, Barrett, Vince Aso, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Wes Goosen on the books.
The Hurricanes kick off their Super Rugby Aotearoa season against the Blues in Wellington in late February.
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