The Hurricanes will welcome the return of star halfback TJ Perenara from injury when they meet Moana Pasifika in Auckland on Friday.
Perenara has not played for the Hurricanes since 2020 after leaving the franchise to play in last year’s Top League for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes but returned to Wellington for this year’s Super Rugby Pacific.
However, the 78-Test All Black has not campaigned for the Hurricanes this season after suffering a knee injury in the preseason, but has bounced back to make his first appearance in 2022 in the No. 9 yellow-and-black jersey.
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Perenara will form a brand new half alongside debutant top five Aidan Morgan, a national age group star who has represented New Zealand at junior and U20 levels in recent years.
The 20-year-old Pivot played for the Hurricanes U20 team at last year’s inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa U20 series before signing a three-year deal with the franchise.
The selections of Perenara and Morgan as halfback and first-five, respectively, represent two of 10 changes from the starting lineup for the Hurricanes, who last played the Highlanders in Wellington three weeks ago.
In addition to Morgan, head coach Jason Holland has named two other debutants in the starting XI in ex-Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden and winger Josh Moorby.
Walden forms one half of a new midfield partnership that also includes All Blacks Peter Umaga-Jensen with a Test at center, while Moorby are the newcomers in a full-back trio with All Blacks star Jordie Barrett along with Wes Goosen.
Up front, All Black’s hooker Asafo Aumua and loosehead propsman Xavier Numia join All Black’s tighthead Tyrel Lomax on the front row, while lock Scott Scrafton replaces James Blackwell on the second row.
Blindside flanker Reed Prinsep retains his place on the side of the scrum and has been named captain for this week’s game after All Blacks star Ardie Savea was demoted to the bench.
Savea’s place in 8th place was taken by Braydon Iose while Blake Gibson replaced Du’Plessis Kirifi on the openside flanker.
Savea is one of seven new faces on the bench, including debutant lock Tom Parsons and halfback Cam Roigard, who returns with Perenara after a long injury layoff.
Hooker James O’Reilly, propsman Alex Fidow, first-five Ruben Love and winger Salesi Rayasi are also included in the reserves, with tighthead propsman Tevita Mafileo the sole survivor of his side’s 21-14 win over the Highlanders on the bench .
In a statement, Holland said that this week’s game against Moana Pasifika offers his side a good chance to give some playing time to players who are still on the field this year and that he is excited to see his debutants in action.
“Friday is a fantastic opportunity for all four who have trained well and are dying to crack,” said Holland.
“Aidan has been around us for a couple of years now and has all the skills and a great head on his shoulders. Teihorangi has been a very popular member of our squad since day one of pre-season and I can’t wait to see him in action.
Moorby has also earned the squad’s respect very quickly and is an exciting prospect anywhere in the back three. Tom will be making his debut off the bench and has brought some great experiences to our pack.”
Kick-off for Friday’s game at Mt Smart Stadium is scheduled for 19:05 NZT.
Hurricanes team plays Moana Pasifika
1. Xavier Numia
2. Asafo Aumua
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. Caleb Delany
6. Reed Prinsep (c)
8. Braydon Iose
9. TJ Perenara
10. Aidan Morgan
11. Wes Goosen
13. Peter Umaga-Jensen
15. Jordie Barrett
17. Alex Fidow
18. Tevita Mafileo
22. Ruben’s love
23. Salesi Rayasi
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