All Blacks fans may have just been given a glimpse of the future at Sky Stadium on Friday night.
It is looking exceedingly likely that five men who have played a massive role in guiding the All Blacks around the park over the past four years will be overseas following the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith are heading to Japan while Brad Weber and TJ Perenara will also be off-contract.
Since 2019, Finlay Christie and Damian McKenzie (whose contract also ends in 2023) are the only other players to have worn the No 9 and No 10 jerseys for New Zealand, collectively accumulating just four starts in black.
Even if Christie and McKenzie do remain in NZ post-France 2023, a rebuild is very likely on the cards for whoever steps into Ian Foster’s role next year.
Alongside Folau Fakatava and Stephen Perofeta, the other two halves to have been given fleeting opportunities by Foster off the pine, the new head coach will be looking for some long-term options to help guide the All Blacks to victory in Australia in 2027.
Two of those options – one at halfback and one at first five-eighth – both made significant impacts for the Hurricanes in their 34-17 win over the Waratahs on Friday evening.
In the No 9 jersey, Cam Roigard continued to build on a strong start to the year with a composed and abrasive performance behind a mostly dominant pack. Even when under pressure at the breakdown, however, Roigard seems comfortable shrugging off the advances of incoming forwards and getting the pill out to his backline without too much trouble – perhaps as a product of primarily playing for sides that typically don’t get to play with too much clean, front-foot ball.
His kicking game from the breakdown was also strong, which is difficult on a still night, let alone in Wellington. One superb box kick struck from inside the 22 found touch just short of halfway – that kind of distance is something that even Aaron Smith, one cap shy of a collective 300 for the Highlanders and All Blacks, struggles with to this day.
Roigard also grabbed two crucial tries on the night, with both instances seeing the home side reclaim the lead from the visitors.
The first highlighted his strength, with the 88-kilogram halfback fighting his way through two Waratahs defenders from five metres out to grab the Hurricanes’ opening score.
The second relied on Roigard’s speed, as he outpaced Waratahs fullback-cum-flyhalf Ben Donaldson to pluck the ball off the ground from a Devan Flanders kick-through and then planted it over the line despite the best efforts of Max Jorgenson.
Perhaps the youngsters’ one blemish was not doing enough to prevent Jorgenson from scoring a try of his own in the same corner earlier in the encounter.
But at least Roigard earned one back later in the night.
Roigard’s extended run at halfback comes as a result of an Achilles injury suffered by TJ Perenara during last year’s November Test matches which means the 80-cap All Black won’t be back on the park until later in the season. On current form alone, it would require a brave call from Hurricanes coach Jason Holland to drop Roigard from his starting role.
During the 2022 Autumn Nations Series, Roigard was one of two back-ups to Perenara and Weber, alongside Cortez Ratima, in the second-string All Blacks XV, earning 15 minutes off the pine in a big win over Ireland A.
Evidently, the 22-year-old is very much already on the national radar. While there will be a new regime in charge in 2024, Roigard’s continual growth at scrumhalf will make him difficult to ignore, whether it’s Scott Robertson, Jamie Joseph or anyone else running the show.
Given the questions surrounding the best back-ups for Aaron Smith at present, there’s even the slim possibility that Roigard could force his way into the national set-up for the upcoming World Cup – though it’s difficult to imagine Foster plumping for more than one of Finlay Christie, Folau Fakatava or a newbie like Roigard given how important experience is heading into major tournaments.
Alongside Roigard, one-Test All Black Brett Cameron delivered what was arguably his best performance at Super Rugby level in the victory over the Waratahs.
Cameron’s story is well-known. The 26-year-old was a left-field selection on New Zealand’s end-of-year tour in 2018, earning a dozen minutes from the pine against Japan in a blowout victory. At the time, Cameron was not ready for Test rugby – and probably wasn’t even up to Super Rugby standard – and his development stalled at the Crusaders.
He shifted to Manawatu ahead of the 2021 NPC and delivered a strong campaign for the Turbos, with a number of Super Rugby sides looking to bring him in for the following season, but Cameron had already signed a one-year deal with the Kamaishi Sea Waves in Japan.
Upon his return to NZ, the Hurricanes wisely snatched Cameron up.
Cameron did exactly what was asked of him – and he didn’t seem to mind working alongside a playmaking No 12 in the form of Jordie Barrett.
At Sky Stadium on Friday, Cameron looked like a seasoned pro. It would have been a rewarding fixture for the Whanganui native, given it was against the Waratahs back in 2019 when Cameron’s Super Rugby career first hit a few speedbumps.
There were no such issues in Wellington, however.
Whether it was laying off quick passes to his teammates, executing a perfectly placed 50/22 from a scrum at halfway or jinking around Waratahs defenders, Cameron did exactly what was asked of him – and he didn’t seem to mind working alongside a playmaking No 12 in the form of Jordie Barrett.
Aidan Morgan may have been given the first shot at the Hurricanes No 10 jersey in match-ups with the Reds and Rebels but on the back of Cameron’s collected showing against the Waratahs, it would be hard for Holland to justify changing up his halves heading into a run of confidence-building matches against Moana Pasifika and the Western Force. Consistency is key for fledgling combinations, and that consistency is exactly what Cam Roigard and Brett Cameron will need before they face off with the likes of the Chiefs, Brumbies and Fijian Drua (in Fji) in a stretch that will be season-defining.
For eight years, fans in New Zealand’s capital knew they could rely on the well-versed combination of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett to more often than not guide the Hurricanes to victory, culminating in a first-ever Super Rugby title in 2016. Barrett’s defection to the Blues in 2020 left a sizeable hole at first five-eighth while injuries and a one-year stint in Japan has also robbed Wellingtonians of Perenara’s services in recent times.
In Cam Roigard and Brett Cameron, however, the Hurricanes have a long-term halves combination that could – alongside some exceptional talent scattered throughout the squad – see the team reinforce itself as genuine Super Rugby contenders.
Don’t be surprised if the All Blacks also take advantage of the Roigard-Cameron-Barrett combination in the years to come. It may still be early days, but signs are promising at the Hurricanes.