'Values' of All Blacks jersey questioned after TJ Perenara's call-up
Perenara was the most notable name included in the All Blacks squad when it was announced on Monday ahead of their upcoming Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship series.
The 69-test veteran’s inclusion in the squad came after he missed the July test series against Tonga and Fiji due to a contractual technicality that came into effect as a result of his sabbatical in Japan earlier this year.
Unlike fellow All Blacks stars Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick, both of whom were also on sabbatical in Japan, Perenara’s contract at the time didn’t include a clause where he was allowed to come straight back into the All Blacks squad.
Instead, Perenara had to play rugby in New Zealand before becoming eligible to play for the All Blacks again, meaning he was ineligible to play against Tonga and Fiji.
Uncapped Blues halfback Finlay Christie was subsequently named in the All Blacks squad in Perenara’s absence, with the Scottish-born product going on to make his first two test appearances in successive weeks against the Pacific Island nations.
However, despite having impressed in his two cameo outings, Christie was omitted from New Zealand’s Rugby Championship squad and replaced by Perenara, who has become eligible for selection after playing club rugby in Wellington.
Christie will remain with the squad as cover until at least the opening Bledisloe Cup clash next month as Perenara gradually returns via club rugby and the NPC, but Kirwan has questioned whether Perenara should be there at all.
Speaking on The Breakdown earlier this week, the former All Blacks wing wondered whether the right decision has been made to drop Christie and re-call Perenara.
“It’s got nothing to do with TJ Perenara, I think he’s an outstanding player, but we’re picking him on last year’s form,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.
“He’s coming back from Japan – he looked really light in the photos I’ve just seen – and so why have we retained Christie?”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 21, 2021
“Why don’t you just name it the other way around? Why don’t you bring TJ in [as cover], keep Christie in, and say, ‘We’re gonna see TJ play at the NPC level’. I mean he’s [only] played club footy,” he added.
Kirwan questioned whether Perenara, who has since re-signed with NZR through until 2023, would be “ready” for test rugby if called upon should injury strike the All Blacks.
“I don’t understand [why he is being named in the squad] now, because what happens [when] he’s been named, someone pulls his calf, like Dane Coles did last week, and he’s starting against Australia? Is he ready?”
Kirwan said that, by already being picked in the national side, Perenara hasn’t had to prove himself to earn selection, but ex-All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina said the 29-year-old still has work to do if he is to re-assert himself in Foster’s squad.
“He’s going to have to leapfrog someone like [Brad] Weber, so, in terms of that, he’s obviously the third[-choice halfback]. He has to go back and prove himself,” Muliaina told The Breakdown.
The 100-test international added that although Christie had not put a foot wrong while playing for the All Blacks, Perenara’s point of different was his leadership, which Muliaina said Foster’s side might be lacking.
Kirwan, however, suggested that Perenara’s inclusion ahead of Christie, who stated his case for test rugby while playing in New Zealand this year, discredits the “values of earning” the All Blacks jersey.
“This has got nothing to do with TJ Perenara, and your [Muliaina’s] argument is completely on point, but what happened to the values of earning the jersey? Full stop for me,” Kirwan said.
“Nothing against TJ, your argument is correct, he’s got all the experience and everything, but just keep Christie in there, say TJ is our fourth[-choice halfback] and he’s going to play in the NPC.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 21, 2021
Kirwan added that both Barrett and Retallick have looked “a bit short of a gallop” in their recent outings for the All Blacks after returning from the Top League.
Despite that, the 1987 World Cup winner reasoned Barrett’s and Retallick’s selections against Tonga and Fiji as “okay” due to the level of opposition they were playing.
Introducing Perenara throughout the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, though, presents more risks, Kirwan indicated.
“Retallick and Barrett did the same, and they’re probably a bit short of gallop, but that was Fiji. It’s okay taking a risk against Tonga and Fiji. Now we’ve got the Championship. That’s all I’m saying.
“I’ll repeat: TJ Perenara is good enough at this level, but we haven’t seen him for a year. I don’t disagree, Mils. For me, it’s just mixed messaging. That’s all. I just don’t get it.”
Kirwan’s comments come after Foster expressed displeasure over Perenara’s public flirtation with the Sydney Roosters in the NRL prior to signing his two-year contract extension with NZR in May.
Perenara hit back at Foster’s comments on Monday as he rejected the notion that his interest in making the cross-code move was a tactical ploy to receive an increased offer from NZR.
The All Blacks, meanwhile, will kickstart their Bledisloe Cup series against the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland, also on August 7.
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