Perenara hungry to retain All Black jersey after serious injury
NEWS: Scrumhalf TJ Perenara is targeting a return to the All Blacks in 2024 after a year spent recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon and having to watch the World Cup on the sidelines.
The veteran of 80 Tests has not played since suffering the potentially career-ending injury at Twickenham in November last year in a 25-all draw with England.
“It wasn’t painful,” the 31-year-old said Tuesday after training with the Wellington Hurricanes, remembering the moment.
“I tried to charge down a kick and I thought someone had kicked me in the back of the leg.
“I turned around and (team-mate) Hoskins Sotutu was there. I had a go at him and he said, ‘I didn’t touch you’. Then I knew from stories of people tearing theirs (Achilles).”
It has been a long road to recovery that is not yet at its end – he says he is at “70 percent” but getting stronger every day.
“The mental challenge was probably harder. Nothing prepares you for that,” Perenara said.
“You get taken out of playing for the All Blacks at Twickenham on the biggest stage to rehabbing for what will, hopefully, be 14 months by the time I get back,” he added.
A setback earlier this year meant a second operation, ruling Perenara out of the World Cup.
He had to watch like a fan as New Zealand went down 11-12 to South Africa in the nail-biting October final.
Perenara is enjoying training again, including putting in extra sessions to aid his recovery.
“I’m feeling like a rugby player again — being out on the field and being able to have an impact.”
He is not yet able to explode into a sprint off his left ankle, something he hopes to do in early January.
The Super Rugby season starts late February.
“Being explosive is the piece that we’re working really hard on,” Perenara added.
Thomas Tekanapu Rawakata Perenara, known as “TJ” for short, was 22 when he made his All Blacks debut.
His 80 games for New Zealand include 58 off the bench. He is known for his silky passing and an eye for a gap.
The All Blacks’ first-choice scrumhalf Aaron Smith walked away from Test rugby after the World Cup to play club rugby in Japan.
With Smith gone, Perenara wants the famous number nine shirt in New Zealand’s next game, a home Test against England in July.
“That’s definitely what I am aiming for,” he said.
“We play this game in New Zealand because you want to be an All Black and play at the highest level, representing the team you grew up loving.”
Perenara said the injury motivated him to turn down lucrative offers to play overseas and force his way back into All Blacks contention.
“I spent the whole year not playing rugby here,” he said. “For it to be taken away was hard.
“I missed out on not playing for the Hurricanes and the All Blacks – that made me want it a little bit more.”
For now his short-term goal is to return to full training with his Super Rugby team and nail down the scrum-half berth.
His main rival will be Cam Roigard, who had a breakout season in 2023 when the 23-year-old earned a place in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad.
“It will be competitive,” Perenara said.
“Both of us want to play big minutes, but both of us will also want the other person to be playing really well.”