Why Brad Weber has been backed over TJ Perenara against Wallabies
In the absence of Aaron Smith for this week’s final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year against the Wallabies in Perth, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has entrusted Brad Weber to step up and fill the void in the No 9 jersey.
In doing so, Weber will start just his second test match, and he will do so ahead of the more experienced and combative halfback option TJ Perenara.
Arguments could have been made to start either one of Weber, who plays a similar style to that of Smith, or Perenara, which created a sense of intrigue as to who would luck out as the next cab off the rank in the lead-up to yesterday’s team announcement.
Any questions regarding New Zealand’s halfback predicament were answered by Foster, who said Weber had caught the eye with his output so far throughout the international season, during which time Perenara was still returning from Japanese sabbatical.
“Brad’s been with us right through the Steinlager Series. Obviously TJ wasn’t with us through that campaign,” Foster told media on Friday.
“TJ’s come in and been outstanding. He’s part of our leadership group and he’s an important voice, training well, but it was really just a vote of confidence in Brad, really. I think he’s done well through the Steinlager Series.”
However, in spite of the plaudits being thrown in favour of Weber, Foster refused to downplay Perenara’s role as a reserve in the match day squad.
“It’s a chance for him [Weber] to get a bit of confidence from getting a starting position because, quite frankly, without Aaron here, we need all our halfbacks firing, and we know it’s a two-halfback game nowadays and we have certainly shown we like to use both our halfbacks through an 80-minute period,” he said.
“So, giving Brad the chance to use all the time he’s had with us to actually go out and play his game I think is going to be exciting. Like I said, we’ve got five tests in a row. This is the first, and there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for everyone else.”
Two months after his first-ever test start, which came against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium, Weber is eager to impress in a match that he described as “one of the biggest” he’s ever been involved in throughout his 10-test career.
“Opportunities in the No 9 jersey with the All Blacks are few and far between with Aaron around, but I’ve had one opportunity,” Weber said.
“I was real keen to play in a game as big as this – against the Australians is one of the biggest ones I’ve had to date – so that’s sort of what I wanted.
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“I guess we’re all pretty aware that, while Aaron’s at home, there will be opportunities for us nines on this tour while he’s away. I’m the first one who gets a crack, and pretty keen to stake my claim pretty strongly this weekend.”
The 30-year-old noted that he can do that by playing his natural style rather than trying to emulate Smith’s exploits, a philosophy which he said has helped mould him into an All Blacks regular.
“I just want to back my skills, back everything that got me here. I don’t need to go out there and try and be Aaron Smith. It’s about just being Brad Weber and bringing what I can bring to the No 9 jersey and to help the team win.
“I back my ability every day, so it’s just about doing my job in this team and doing it to the best of my ability and hoping everything else sort of falls into place.”
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