Ian Foster is happy to have TJ Perenara back in the All Blacks fold – but he was grumpy that the haflback’s dalliance with league was played out in public.
Perenara had been considering a switch to the NRL with the Sydney Roosters while playing rugby in Japan earlier this year, before opting to return to New Zealand.
He was contractually unavailable for the first three tests of the year at home versus Tonga and Fiji, but on Monday was named in the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship.
“I didn’t really know whether TJ was serious with the NRL or not,” Foster told Stuff on Monday.
* Live: All Blacks name squad for Rugby Championship
* Power Couple: Steve Hansen and Phil Gould set to form NRL’s most revered alliance
* How Wallabies plan to defend Marika Koroibete’s ‘terribly milked’ red card for Bledisloe Cup series
* ‘We’ve got a pretty clear idea’: Ian Foster has All Blacks’ top lineup sorted
“I wasn’t personally over-impressed that that played out publicly; I made that point to him, I didn’t like the senior All Black coming out and saying he was thinking of leaving.
“That’s all part of the negotiation ploy I guess, but ultimately he’s back.”
Foster said he was impressed with how the 29-year-old played in Japan for his NTT Red Hurricanes side, but would still need more rugby before the All Blacks open their campaign in a Bledisloe Cup encounter against Australia at Eden Park on August 7.
“When he went to Japan, he had a clear focus from us,” the All Blacks coach said.
“The good thing about a halfback going to Japan is that we want our halfbacks fast to the ruck … we monitored his progress over there and were pretty pleased with what we saw in that space. We know he’s a confrontational nine, a tough defender, he’s good over the ball, he’s ultra-competitive, so he’s done that for us for a long long time.
“It was a nice little reminder to say ‘you’re good at that’ but we also want to make sure we keep that threshold of speed in the game. He certainly focused on that in Japan and I thought he did a really good job.”
Foster said Perenara has played some club rugby but would also likely play for Wellington in the NPC –which starts in early August – to get fully back up to speed, meaning he’s unlikely to feature much in the three tests against the Wallabies next month.
“I spoke to him yesterday – we have found the guys that come back from Japan take just a little bit of time to get back up to the level that we want. Hence the likelihood is that we’ll use the Wellington NPC team for a week or two for that.”
Foster said it wasn’t an easy decision to include Perenara in the squad ahead of Finlay Christie, who will initially stay with the squad as cover.
“I was really impressed with him with the two outings he [Chrsitie] had with us.
“He really did everything we asked of him – and the fact we can still bring him in as cover while TJ plays for Wellington, probably in that round one, gives us great confidence in Finlay. He’s a guy we’re going to keep around with us because we think he’s got a big future.”
Foster said neither would Perenara automatically be regarded as the second-string halfback behind Aaron Smith and ahead of Brad Weber.
“He just comes in as one of the three – we’ll make those assessments as we go along.”
Midfield back Braydon Ennor, who missed the tests against Tonga and Fiji to undergo appendicitis surgery is back and so too is prop Ofa Tuungafasi, following his knee surgery.
George Bower will also remain with the squad as injury cover for Joe Moody, who is back in the squad but is not expected to return to test rugby until after the Bledisloe Cup series. Samisoni Taukei’aho also stays with the All Blacks squad as cover for Asafo Aumua.
All Blacks squad for The Rugby Championship (with age/test caps in brackets):
Hookers: Asafo Aumua (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 2), Dane Coles (34, Hurricanes / Wellington, 76), Codie Taylor (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 58)
Props: Nepo Laulala (29, Blues / Counties Manukau, 31) Tyrel Lomax (25, Hurricanes / Tasman, 8) Joe Moody (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 50) Angus Ta’avao (31, Chiefs / Auckland, 16) Karl Tu’inukuafe (28, Blues / North Harbour, 18) Ofa Tuungafasi (29, Blues / Auckland, 39)
Locks: Scott Barrett (27, Crusaders / Taranaki, 42), Brodie Retallick (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 83), Patrick Tuipulotu (28, Blues / Auckland, 38), Tupou Vaa’i (21, Chiefs / Taranaki, 4), Samuel Whitelock (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 125) – captain
Loose Forwards: Ethan Blackadder (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 2), Shannon Frizell (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 14), Akira Ioane (26, Blues / Auckland, 4), Luke Jacobson (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 5), Dalton Papalii (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 5), Ardie Savea (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 50), Hoskins Sotutu (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 6)
Halfbacks: TJ Perenara (29, Hurricanes / Wellington, 69), Aaron Smith (32, Highlanders / Manawatu, 99), Brad Weber (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 9)
First five–eighths: Beauden Barrett (30, Blues / Taranaki, 91), Richie Mo’unga (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 24)
Midfielders: Braydon Ennor (23, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1), David Havili (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 5), Rieko Ioane (24, Blues / Auckland, 37), Anton Lienert-Brown (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 50), Quinn Tupaea (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
Outside backs: Jordie Barrett (24, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 25), George Bridge (26, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12), Will Jordan (22, Crusaders / Tasman, 5), Damian McKenzie (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 30), Sevu Reece (23, Crusaders / Tasman, 10).