In the end the selection of Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield for the All Blacks against Tonga was easy for coach Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors because they were the only pair fit and available.

Sonny Bill Williams' tight calf ruled him out and Jack Goodhue's hamstring strain suffered against Australia in Perth accounted for him. For them and the All Blacks it's an unfortunate state of affairs because they both need game time and the big question for Hansen now will be whether he can gamble on selecting them – and in particular Goodhue - against the Boks in Yokohama in a fortnight.

Goodhue must now be doubtful, but Williams, given his big-game temperament, must be firmly in the frame for second-five for that World Cup opener.

That would suggest Lienert-Brown, who has shouldered a fair bit of work lately in playing 80 minutes in the last two tests against Australia, must be the favourite to wear the No 13 jersey against the Boks should he remain fit, an honour that will be fully deserved given his recent form.


Crotty's return from a broken thumb also comes at just the right time and the Crusaders and Canterbury midfielder, leaving to go overseas at the end of the year, is not surprisingly a fan of Lienert-Brown's work.

"I watched him a lot in Super Rugby," Crotty said. "He's just taken his game to another level - he's just continued to get a little bit better each year and it's just awesome to see him on that incline. The thing about Anton … I love how mindful he is – he's almost wise beyond his years. He's still a young guy but he's got a lot of experience. He's a deep thinker."

Anton Lienert-Brown during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Getty
Anton Lienert-Brown during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Getty

In what threatened to turn into a meeting of a mutual admiration society in Hamilton ahead of the test against Tonga on Saturday, Lienert-Brown returned the compliment to a player who is almost as adaptable as he is.

Lienert-Brown, still only 24, has played so well in both midfield positions this year it's difficult to know what his best position is. The same applies to Crotty to a slightly lesser extent; he's probably a better No 12 but it's his experience, reliability and distribution skills which set him apart.

"I guess I've been around for a while now and have played a few tests, which I'm very lucky to have been able to do," Lienert-Brown said. "It's not your age [which is important], it's probably the years you spend in here. Every year you learn a lot and I've been really lucky to have been under Sonny and Crotts, they're very wise men themselves."

"He's very detailed … and always keeps you honest," Lienert-Brown said of Crotty. "That's made me better as a player and person.

"We're always challenged to be honest … and there's no hierarchy. We just want the best for each other."

All Blacks side to face Tonga:


1. Joe Moody (40)
2. Codie Taylor (44)
3. Nepo Laulala (19)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (24)
5. Samuel Whitelock (111)
6. Ardie Savea (38)
7. Matt Todd (20)
8. Kieran Read - captain (121)
9. TJ Perenara (58)
10. Beauden Barrett (77)
11. George Bridge (4)
12. Ryan Crotty (44)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (37)
14. Sevu Reece (2)
15. Ben Smith (79)


16. Liam Coltman (5)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (29)
18. Angus Ta'avao (7)
19. Scott Barrett (30)
20. Luke Jacobson (1)
21. Aaron Smith (86)
22. Josh Ioane *
23. Jordie Barrett (11)

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