All Blacks: Robertson says returning Perenara is ‘the koro we needed’

Experience at halfback counts for a lot when it comes to picking the All Blacks first test side, says coach Scott Robertson.

In a tightly congested picture for the number nine jersey, 80-test veteran TJ Perenara has won the race to start against England this Saturday in Dunedin, with Robertson saying that he is “the koro we needed”.

“He picked himself, he’s on form, he’s a competitor. He’s 80 test matches in.”

Finlay Christie will come off the bench, while Cortez Ratima will have to wait for his test debut. All three had solid cases for starting this test, however it does feel fitting for Perenara to get the nod given that it was against England that he suffered a serious knee injury back in November of 2022. That saw him miss a year and a half’s worth of rugby, but once he returned to the Hurricanes Perenara has been in some of the best form of his career.

Other tightly contested selection areas were blindside flanker and wing, with Samipeni Finau rewarded for a strong season with the Chiefs.

“He’s six foot five and 120 kilos. He’s a great lineout jumper, can tackle and he’s a test forward,” Robertson said when asked about what he liked about Finau. The 25-year-old played one test last season and is the latest in a long line of players to try and make the number six jersey their own.

Robertson admitted the wing selections were difficult, before opting for Sevu Reece and Mark Tele’a.

The most interesting call was at fullback, where Stephen Perofeta was preferred over Beauden Barrett. Robertson said that Perofeta’s performance in the Blues’ Super Rugby Pacific final win was a factor.

“It was all considered. Obviously, the experience of 123 tests matches counts for a lot, but (Perofeta) is great under the high ball, playing great footy and just a couple of weeks ago was playing in a test match level game. Beauden can play his part covering 10 and 15.”

There are no debutants in this All Black side, however Robertson said it wasn’t a case of being risk-averse.

“I wouldn’t call it safe, it’s just the best team for this test. To set them up with combinations is really critical, and there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of tests. We’ve got a strong bench, a very experienced bench that’ll be really critical.”

Robertson also revealed that World Cup winning All Black coach Sir Graham Henry had been in touch with a message of support.

“Sir Ted actually texted me last night saying all the best, his career started down here 20 years ago in the same place. It was a nice touch from him and he had a hell of career, didn’t he?”

All Blacks v England

Kick-off: 7.05pm, Saturday 6 July

Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Live blog coverage on RNZ Sport

All Blacks: 1, Ethan de Groot 2. Codie Taylor 3. Tyrel Lomax 4. Scott Barrett (captain) 5, Patrick Tuipulotu, 6. Samipeni Finau 7. Dalton Papali’i 8. Ardie Savea (vice captain) 9. TJ Perenara 10. Damian McKenzie 11. Mark Tele’a 12. Jordie Barrett 13. Rieko Ioane 14. Sevu Reece 15. Stephen Perofeta

Bench: 16. Asafo Aumua 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi 18. Fletcher Newell 19. Tupou Vaa’i 20. Luke Jacobson 21. Finlay Christie 22. Anton Lienert-Brown 23. Beauden Barrett

England: 15. George Furbank, 14. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13. Henry Slade (vice-captain), 12. Ollie Lawrence, 11. Tommy Freeman, 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Alex Mitchell 8. Ben Earl (vice-captain), 7. Sam Underhill, 6. Chandler Cunningham-South, 5. George Martin, 4. Maro Itoje (vice-captain), 3. Will Stuart, 2. Jamie George (captain), 1. Joe Marler (vice-captain)

Bench: 16. Theo Dan, 17. Fin Baxter, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Alex Coles, 20. Tom Curry, 21. Ben Spencer, 22. Fin Smith, 23. Ollie Sleightholme

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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