Disharmony isn’t a common theme among the All Blacks camp, but New Zealand head coach Ian Foster is embroiled in a public spat following TJ Perenara’s return to the fold.
Perenara, 29, is in line to earn his first international cap since November after being named in Foster’s squad for the 2021 Rugby Championship, which gets underway on August 14.
The 69-cap veteran will make his international comeback following a brief stint in Japan with the NTT Red Hurricanes, but there were strong links concerning a potential move to the National Rugby League.
Foster spoke to Stuff.co.nz after confirming his squad on Monday, expressing that he felt those rumours were at least partly tactical: “I didn’t really know whether TJ was serious with the NRL or not.
“I wasn’t personally over-impressed that that played out publicly; I made that point to him, I didn’t like the senior All Black coming out and saying he was thinking of leaving.
“That’s all part of the negotiation ploy I guess, but ultimately he’s back.”
Two of Perenara’s cousins, Henry and Marcus, have experience playing in the NRL, while the former went on to represent New Zealand and New Zealand Maori at international level.
The No. 9 is the stand-out option for the All Blacks in his position when at his best, although Highlanders ace Aaron Smith and the Chiefs’ Brad Weber are elite options in their own right.
Foster was also under some pressure to keep Blues half-back Finlay Christie in the squad after his breakout season, helping his franchise win the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman tournament.
Perenara will return to the Hurricanes in Wellington after signing a new contract with New Zealand Rugby in May, ending speculation regarding a cross-code switch.
When quizzed about his coach’s comments following training on Monday, the player told Stuff : "We were genuine in all discussions, it wasn't a ploy.
"The decision to come back to New Zealand was a really tough decision because of how close we were to going to the NRL and back to Japan."
It’s rare to see any sort of disagreement play out among the All Blacks, especially in the public sphere, as this situation has.
Foster served as assistant to Steve Hansen for seven years before inheriting the head coach role in 2019.
He added Perenara will represent Wellington in the National Provincial Championship (NPC) to get back up to speed following his stint in Japan.
The Rugby Championship begins with a clash between South Africa and Argentina on August 14, although New Zealand won’t open their tournament until August 21 when they face Australia in Perth.
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