Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Rookie Anton Lienert-Brown to shore up midfield for Wallabies clash

Lienert-Brown shows All Blacks selectors he’s ready to play test footy and replaces Crotty at second-five.
Chiefs second-five Anton Lienert-Brown impressed the ABs selectors. Photo / Photosport
Chiefs second-five Anton Lienert-Brown impressed the ABs selectors. Photo / Photosport

There's no doubt he's benefited from fate's cruelty to others, but Anton Lienert-Brown has done plenty to shape his own destiny which will see him win his first All Blacks cap on Saturday against the Wallabies.

The 21-year-old Chiefs second-five is the man the selectors have chosen to start at No12 in place of the injured Ryan Crotty. And it's a decision that Lienert-Brown made easy for them.

They saw enough from him in Super Rugby to feel he was ready to play tests and since they called him into the Rugby Championship squad, that conviction has strengthened.

"You are looking for a real game understanding," assistant coach Ian Foster said about trying to assess when uncapped players might be ready to win test game time.

"How their role fits into the team. We can see that through training and also our conversations with them off the park. One of the reasons that's really important to us is we don't want players going out there and spending their time thinking about a lot of things.

"We want the game to be instinctive to them so they can just go out and play. It's how quickly they feel comfortable they understand the bigger picture we want."

There were other options for the coaching team to consider. Seta Tamanivalu, who played two tests in June, could have been picked at centre and Malakai Fekitoa switched to second-five.

But there would have been concern about the similarities of Fekitoa and Tamanivalu. Both are direct and bruising and often a combination needs a variety of skills not an exceptional amount of just one thing.

And why make two changes instead of one and why, when Sonny Bill Williams was ruled out of action three weeks ago, call up Lienert-Brown and not Tamanivalu and then select the latter to start?

None of that would have made sense and as much as it made for a good story, the chances of playing Reiko Ioane were always slim. His time will come, just not this weekend.

A test cap is just reward for Lienert-Brown who was a relative unknown when the season started.

He became an increasingly influential force within the Chiefs, establishing himself as a rock in their midfield by the time they reached the semifinals. His game is uncluttered and uncomplicated.

That's not to say he's limited or lacking, it's a recognition that he has an astute reading of his core role.

Solid defence is his prime offering. At 96kg he holds his own physically and yet his real skill is his reading of where to be and who to target.

As a ball carrier, he knows the importance of keeping himself square to the touchline, accelerating into contact and driving himself over the gainline.

Lest anyone should forget, Ma'a Nonu established himself as one of the greatest midfielders in history by incessantly charging into the fray.

He would go on in time to bolster his directness with a number of subtle skills and deft touches and this may, too, be the path that Lienert-Brown follows.

Basics first, frills later.

He's by no means incapable of distributing or using footwork to avoid rather than invite collisions but the All Blacks coaches will be happy enough with him on Saturday if he stops anyone coming through his channel and takes the ball back to the set-up in front of the advantage line.

All Blacks team (test caps)
1. Joe Moody (14)
2. Dane Coles (40)
3. Owen Franks (81)
4. Brodie Retallick (51)
5. Samuel Whitelock (76)
6. Jerome Kaino (70)
7. Sam Cane (35)
8. Kieran Read - captain (88)
9. Aaron Smith (51)
10. Beauden Barrett (40)
11. Julian Savea (44)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
13. Malakai Fekitoa (16)
14. Israel Dagg (52)
15. Ben Smith (52)

Reserves
16. James Parsons (1)
17. Wyatt Crockett (49)
18. Charlie Faumuina (37)
19. Liam Squire (2)
20. Ardie Savea (3)
21. TJ Perenara (20)
22. Aaron Cruden (40)
23. Seta Tamanivalu (2)

- NZ Herald

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