Super Rugby Pacific: Veteran TJ Perenara poised to take Hurricanes reins after season-ending injury to Cam Roigard

Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan doesn't expect the unbeaten Hurricanes to miss a beat, despite losing kingpin halfback Cam Roigard for the remainder of their Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

The Wellington-based outfit are cruising atop the competition ladder, with a six-game run that tapered nicely into a bye week and a chance to emerge re-energised against their Waikato rivals on Saturday.

They lost Roigard - the hair apparent to Aaron Smith for the All Blacks No.9 jersey - to a knee injury against the Highlanders and must now adjust their plans around veteran TJ Perenara, who is already the franchise's most-capped player.

Cam Roigard is stretchered off and TJ Perenara takes over the Hurricanes.
Cam Roigard is stretchered off and TJ Perenara takes over the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport

McMillan expects the Hurricanes will be just fine with Perenara calling the shots.

"TJ is a fairly established, experienced halfback, All Black, competitor, leftfooter," he said. "I don't know they actually lose a lot and that's no slight on Cam Roigard.

"I just think TJ has come back hungry and he's been the spiritual hub of that team for a long time.

I know he'll want to go out there and make a statement, so I'm not sure they miss anything."

After an outstanding 2023 rookie campaign with the national team, establishing himself as Smith's likely replacement when the incumbent took up a Japanese club contract, Roigard, 23, was arguably Super Rugby's Most Valuable Player over the opening two months, until his untimely injury. 

After 150 games for the Hurricanes, Perenara - not long off a ruptured Achilles tendon during the All Blacks 2022 northern tour - seemed consigned to a back-up/mentor role, but this opportunity to retake the jersey fulltime has also rekindled his international prospects, with Smith and Roigard out of the equation.

"I have massive aspirations to play for the All Blacks and represent our country," Perenara told the Front Row Daily Show podcast in February. "It's the pinnacle of the game in my eyes, playing for the All Blacks, and to get back there would be awesome.

"Obviously, my first focus now is to play well for the Hurricanes and to help us win a Super Rugby Championship, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't aspiring to be an All Black."

Hurricanes coach Clark Laidlaw feels comfortable with Perenara stepping into his previous role.

"If you know TJ, he is ready and probably thought he was going to be starting every week," said Laidlaw. "It's obvious losing Cam is disappointing for him and for us, but if you wanted somebody to come in, it would be an 80-test halfback, 154 Super Rugby games.

"It won't faze TJ, he's ready and had a good week - his energy is similar to the rest of the group.

"We're hugely disappionted for Cam, but hugely lucky to have TJ."

Laidlaw doesn't expect much will change, despite the differences in individual styles between the pair.

"We build a game around the overall profile of the players," he said. "One or two players have different skillsets, but TJ can run, he can play on the frontfoot, he had good composure and is a huge defensive 9.

"We think we can stick with the way we want to play."

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