Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

All Blacks rookie making test rugby look like a stroll in the park

All Blacks second five-eighths Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo / NZME
All Blacks second five-eighths Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo / NZME

Anton Lienert-Brown's rise has been so fast that the 21-year-old, who will start his fourth test when he runs out against Australia at Eden Park tonight, must now be considered the All Blacks' incumbent centre.

It is a remarkable progression for the Chiefs player, who has taken to the pressure cooker of test rugby with an apparent shrug of the shoulders.

His first start was in his first test - at second five in the victory over the Wallabies in Wellington in August. Job, comprehensively, done.

He was a replacement for Ryan Crotty in his following two tests against Argentina in Hamilton and South Africa in Christchurch and then went to another level when starting at No13 against the Pumas in Buenos Aires and Boks in Durban. Rarely has a player shown such composure and adaptability for the All Blacks so early in his career; for the Christchurch-born Lienert-Brown it appears as taxing as a walk to the corner dairy.

Coach Steve Hansen has rightly pointed out that a lot of Lienert-Brown's success at centre has been due to the form of Crotty, but Hansen and his fellow coaches can also take some of the credit. It is said that the team environment under new skipper Kieran Read is as inclusive as it has ever been, and clearly something is allowing relative youngsters such as Lienert-Brown to perform at a high level early in their careers.

It takes confidence to throw as many offloads as Lienert-Brown does, but he is becoming renowned for it. He was successful with three, including a try assist, against the Boks at Kings Park, and it's a skill which can put opposition defences under real stress.

"The things that have impressed us about him are his demeanour under pressure," Hansen said. "He's got the ability to cope with it, for a young guy. His skill-sets are complementing what we're trying to do.

"[Beauden] Barrett is playing really well because I think Crotts is giving him a lot of good voice and L-B is playing well because he's got a good solid man inside him. It's just a matter of taking it quietly, in L-B's case, and growing him all the time. He's not the finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but he's showing us plenty and he's getting rewarded for it."

Crotty, 28, said the combination of himself and Lienert-Brown was going well because of the junior man's form. "He's doing his thing really, really well; his strength in the carry, his ability to offload," Crotty said. "It's nice being able to run off him at times and try to pick what he's going to do."

- NZ Herald

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