British and Irish Lions Tour: Smith v Perenara

Opinion-Piece

With only a few days to go until the first Test, our rugby scribe debates the merits of starting TJ Perrenara at scrum-half for the All Blacks. 

The first Test is fast approaching and while All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will have decided on his starting XV months ago, a brilliant cameo performance from Hurricanes man TJ Perrenara against Samoa may have the All Black mentor rethinking the starting nine berth.

You know you’re a blessed rugby nation when you can choose between Aaron Smith and TJ Perrenara for a starting berth. The two diminutive nines, while cut from a similar cloth, have different strengths as well as weaknesses. The former is one of the best distributors to ever don the All Black nine jersey while the latter could fill in for the Duracell Bunny, such is his uncanny ability to up the tempo of the game.

Any good debate should start with a pros and cons list, well at least in my opinion, and that’s what I will do below:

Aaron Smith 

Pros

- Vastly experienced at Test level
- A more composed box Kicker than Perrenara
- Solid understanding with eighthman, Kieran Read
- Cool under pressure
- Strong in the tackle
- Marshalls a pack very well

Cons

- Form has dropped off significantly since last year’s ‘airport scandal’
- Not inclined to tap-and-go 
- Doesn’t have the same understanding with Beauden Barrett as Perrenara does
- Has been sloppy at the base of rucks and scrums for the Highlanders this term

TJ Perrenara

Pros

- Lightening quick and not afraid to take on a defender
- Solid understanding with Barrett
- Able to up the ante with quick taps
- Brilliant around the fringe of rucks
- Covers opposition kicks really well

Cons

- Not as proficient with the boot as Smith
- A bit overeager at times
- Doesn’t have as long a working relationship with Read as Smith does
- Not much experience starting at international level

With the pros and cons now listed, we can move onto to the point of this piece, which is giving Perenara a start over Smith.

I really hate bringing this type of stuff up as I think the media are way too focused on sports stars private lives but it needs to be noted that Smith’s form has dropped off dramatically since his romp with a woman in a Christchurch airport last October. He was dropped for the All Blacks record-breaking victory over the Boks in Durban subsequent to that event, with his spot being taken by Perenara, who had an absolute blinder. Smith returned to the side for the end of the year Test against Ireland but was dropped again after putting in a poor shift. And while he’s done alright for the Highlanders during their 2017 Super Rugby campaign, the mystique that once surrounded the 'world’s best scrumhalf' seems to have disappeared.

While Smith has seen his stocks plummet like Apple in the mid-90s, Perenara has seen his portfolio continue to rise to unprecedented off the back of some solid shifts for the All Blacks at the close of the year. He’s also carried that form into 2017, putting in some sensational performances for the Hurricanes during their Super Rugby campaign.

Hansen finds himself in quite the quagmire here: go with the tried and tested or give the less experienced but bang in form Perenera a bash? And while I suspect he will start Smith in the first Test, I think we may see Perenara take over for the remainder of the Tour.

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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