Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara is itching to get back into the All Blacks environment after spending much of the latter part of 2013 on the bench recuperating from injury or holding tackle bags at practice.
"Mate, it was probably the biggest learning curve of my career," Perenara told Reuters of his inclusion in the All Blacks squad last year and for their end of season tour.
"I spent a lot of time around the best players in the world just picking their brains and learning bits and pieces ... just learning how they prepare, how they approach the game.
"It was just a massive learning curve."
The 22-year-old's eagerness to get back into Steve Hansen's squad, and hopefully win the much-coveted All Blacks cap, cannot be underestimated.
Perenara has long been tipped for higher honours after making the Wellington provincial side while still at school and in early 2012 he was on the radar of the selectors as they revamped the All Blacks squad looking to the 2015 World Cup.
A broken ankle against the Queensland Reds in 2012 required surgery, though, and he spent almost two weeks in a Brisbane hospital after post-operative complications.
He returned for Super Rugby last season and was eventually called up for the Rugby Championship but did not make it onto the field, Hansen chosing to give Aaron Smith plenty of game time after a poor Super Rugby campaign.
Perenara then suffered what was initially thought to be a stress fracture of the left ankle he had broken in 2012 and was told his chances of making the end-of-season tour were in the balance.
"It wasn't a stress fracture, but there was stress around where I broke my ankle the previous year," Perenara said.
"There was talk about if I wasn't going to be 100 percent then I wouldn't be selected for the tour.
"But I did the right things with the doctors and the strength and conditioning people and got it right so was able to tour."
Despite having made the tour, Perenara was not included in the matchday squad until the final game against Ireland in Dublin, where the All Blacks were seeking their 14th successive victory in 2013.
With the All Blacks trailing until well into injury time, Hansen, usually an advocate of emptying his bench to create impact in the final quarter, left Perenara cooling his heels on the sideline.
Ryan Crotty scored a late try that Aaron Cruden converted to win the game 24-22 and Perenara remained without his international cap.
Perenara did not express any disappointment and instead threw himself back into pre-season training with the Hurricanes about three weeks earlier than his colleagues in the All Blacks squad.
"I was allowed the stand down period but I came back early," Perenara said.
"I felt I didn't do much playing of rugby (in the latter part of 2013) so getting back in the environment was good."
A strong, fast runner and tough, physical defender, Perenara's passing and tactical kicking can be wayward from time to time - no more so than against the ACT Brumbies last Friday when the Hurricanes were beaten 29-21.
It is something he is well aware he needs to work on if he is to be one of the three scrumhalves Hansen will take through to the 2015 World Cup, along with incumbents Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
"Performances out on the field is how you get to be number one (and) I need to improve my passing and kicking," Perenara said.
"We have some of the better passers and (tactical) kickers in the world so that's one of the jobs that I have to keep improving and working on."
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