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TJ Perenara returns as Hurricanes hand rookie first-five starting debut

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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The Hurricanes will welcome the return of star halfback TJ Perenara from injury when they face Moana Pasifika in Auckland on Friday.

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Perenara hasn’t played for the Hurricanes since 2020 after departing the franchises to play for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in last year’s Top League, but returned to Wellington for this year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

However, the 78-test All Black hasn’t featured for the Hurricanes this season after sustaining a knee injury during pre-season, but has recovered to make his first appearance in the yellow-and-black No 9 jersey in 2022.

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Perenara will form a brand new halves pairing with debutant first-five Aidan Morgan, a national age-grade star who has represented New Zealand at schoolboy and U20 level in recent years.

The 20-year-old pivot played for the Hurricanes U20 team at last year’s inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa U20 series before going on to sign a three-year deal with the franchise.

The selection of Perenara and Morgan at halfback and first-five, respectively, represents two of 10 changes from the Hurricanes starting lineup that last played against the Highlanders in Wellington three weeks ago.

In addition to Morgan, head coach Jason Holland has named a further two starting debutants in the form of ex-Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden and wing Josh Moorby.

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Walden forms one half of a new midfield partnership that also includes one-test All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen at centre, while Moorby joins Wes Goosen as the newbies in an outside back trio that features All Blacks star Jordie Barrett.

Up front, All Blacks hooker Asafo Aumua and loosehead prop Xavier Numia accompany All Blacks tighthead Tyrel Lomax in the front row, while lock Scott Scrafton replaces James Blackwell in the second row.

Blindside flanker Reed Prinsep retains his place on the side of the scrum, and has been named captain for this week’s match following the demotion of  All Blacks star Ardie Savea to the bench.

Savea’s place at No 8 has been take by Braydon Iose, while Blake Gibson replaces Du’Plessis Kirifi at openside flanker.

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Savea is one of seven new faces on the bench, one of whom is debutant lock Tom Parsons, with another being halfback Cam Roigard, who joins Perenara in making his return from a lengthy injury lay-off.

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Hooker James O’Reilly, prop Alex Fidow, first-five Ruben Love and wing Salesi Rayasi are also included in the reserves, with tighthead prop Tevita Mafileo the sole survivor on the bench from his side’s 21-14 victory over the Highlanders.

In a statement, Holland said this week’s fixture against Moana Pasifika provides his side with a good chance to hand some game time to players who are yet to take to the field this year, and that he is excited to see his debutants in action.

“Friday is a fantastic opportunity for all four who have trained well and been dying to get a crack,” Holland said.

“Aidan has been in our environment for a couple of years now and has all the skills and a great head on his shoulders. Teihorangi has been a very popular member of our squad since day one of pre-season and I can’t wait to see him in action.

Moorby has also earned the respect of the squad really quickly and is an exciting prospect anywhere in the back three. Tom will make his debut off the bench, and has brought some great experience into our pack.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match at Mt Smart Stadium is scheduled for 7:05pm NZT.

Hurricanes team to play Moana Pasifika

1. Xavier Numia
2. Asafo Aumua
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. Caleb Delany
5. Scott Scrafton
6. Reed Prinsep (c)
7. Blake Gibson
8. Braydon Iose
9. TJ Perenara
10. Aidan Morgan
11. Wes Goosen
12. Teihorangi Walden
13. Peter Umaga-Jensen
14. Josh Moorby
15. Jordie Barrett

Reserves

16. James O’Reilly
17. Alex Fidow
18. Tevita Mafileo
19. Tom Parsons
20. Ardie Savea
21. Cam Roigard
22. Ruben Love
23. Salesi Rayasi

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