TJ Perenara: 2016 and 2018 defeats are an afterthought for the All Blacks

New Zealand scrumhalf could face up against former teammate Jamison Gibson-Park

The All Blacks are not a crew to suffer from sentimentality. Their brand of winning has a cold deliberation and a tempo that rarely considers the scoreboard. Beating teams by 50 points sets the bar for 100 points. If the challenge isn’t to win the match, they create another.

Their 47-9 win over Italy in Rome brought Ian Foster’s side to 96 tries in 2021 breaking Argentina’s record of 92 set in 2003, while their total points tally stands at 675, eclipsing South Africa’s 2007 haul of 658 points.

Melodrama, it's just not the way they roll. Still, in TJ Perenara there is a hint of affection in his voice as the All Blacks scrumhalf reminisces about playing with Ireland's Jamison Gibson-Park at the Hurricanes. If Gibson-Park is selected for the weekend Perenara, who has twice come off the bench on the tour, knows what he is getting.

"Yeah, he was an awesome player to play with and play against when he was in New Zealand, " he says. "And to be fair, he was one of the most gifted players I ever played with. And everything as well, I mean like everything that guy touches often turns to gold. To see him come over here and be both successful at the club level and the international level has been awesome.


“The way he played at the weekend was fantastic, and the way he has been playing over the last four years, it’s been awesome to see. He really deserves his spot in international rugby. And hopefully if we get the chance to play against each, it will be pretty cool.”

One of the most misleading statistics is that Ireland have won two of the last four meetings. Euphoric Soldier Field in 2016 and Aviva Stadium in 2018 shattered a bewitching command the All Blacks had on Irish rugby history.

Another is that Ireland has won two matches out of the last 32 meetings stretching back to the first in 1905. Perenara, reading from the All Black motivational play book, is not distracted by what happened last weekend let alone last year or two years ago. They task themselves to reset for the week ahead.

“I think it’s all past history,” he says. “It’s irrelevant to me, to be completely honest. Yeah I was a part of both of those experiences and we can take the learning experiences from it. But I’d be lying to you if I tried to say that my drive comes from losing to them in 2016 and 2018. It’s just not a realistic thing.

“And I don’t think people should carry that for that long anyway. We might look back on things that happened in those games and be like, ‘man, they hurt us here’, or ‘they used a tactic here that we can learn from’. But it’s not a part of my drive.”

What he sees in Ireland is a team that has changed qualitatively from the one of three years ago with the influence of Andy Farrell and probably Leinster's large cadre of players exerting an influence. Either way Perenara sees more of a 'footy' team where the ball is kept in play more often than before.

“I’ve seen bits and pieces for previewing, obviously this week,” he says. “To be fair, they’ve been a quality side for a long time now. So we know each time we play against Ireland, the physical battle firstly, that we’re going to come against is second to none.

“And then what I’ve also noted that they’ve added to their game is the ability to keep the ball alive. That is something that, I don’t know if it has been a clear focus for them. But we have noticed that the ball is being kept alive a lot more.

“Some of the tries they are scoring from all over the field, some of the line-breaks they are making, it’s pretty special to see. They’ve got some athletes in their environment and then when they get the ball in space, they’re tough to spot.”

Perenara, who turned down a switch to Rugby League this year, is also known for his support of social issues, having spoken widely of his support for inclusiveness and diversity in rugby. In response to Israel Folau’s 2019 comments on same sex marriage, where he said on Instagram that drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters would go to hell unless they repented, Perenara tweeted in support of the rainbow community.

He has also expressed continued support for LGBT issues. When asked about players taking the knee his view was it should be considered.

“For me it’s a space that does need conversation,” he said. “We don’t engage in that conversation quite enough, in my opinion and then the growth that can come from those conversations. I think those conversations are pretty healthy.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times