Just shy of 50 test caps, the 25-year-old will bring some useful experience and poise to the All Blacks backline.
Leading into last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, some were calling him the best midfielder in rugby, but his journey to becoming a world class player hasn’t always been easy.
To kick off Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand late last month, Lienert-Brown spoke with The XV, a long-form rugby content website, about his battles with fear and doubt throughout this career.
After a number of injuries in the Chiefs squad, at just 18-years-old, he was named to make his Super Rugby debut against the Bulls at Loftus Versfield.
Lienert-Brown was tasked with marking Springboks flyer Bjorn Basson. Just before he was subbed off in the 50th minute, Basson stepped around him and ran away for a nicely worked try. After trailing 15-34, the Chiefs rallied and earned a 34-all draw, but this was little comfort for Lienert-Brown.
In ‘School of Hard Knocks’, he said: “From that Chiefs debut, it took me a while to fully regain my confidence as a rugby player.
“I was young, I felt as though I let down my teammates and my family, and I felt as though I’d embarrassed myself on a world stage.
“When I first started playing for the Chiefs, I was comparing how I performed for them with how I’d performed at school because I guess that was the last time I’d actually played rugby. But Super Rugby’s obviously a few levels up and you can’t quite do the same things that you got away with at school; it took me a while to understand that.
— The XV (@TheXV) September 29, 2020
“I felt as though I’d embarrassed myself on a world stage.”
In this exclusive interview, @AllBlacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown opens up on his struggles adjusting to pro rugby, despite how easy it may have looked from the outside.
“I also had a feeling that I needed to prove myself. I was around my idols and I felt as though I had this pressure on me, like I needed to show them that I was up for it and I was in the team for a reason. At school, you’re one of the bigger players, you’re one of the leaders, but when you get to this professional stage, you start all over again.”
Lienert-Brown then elected to leave the Chiefs and join the New Zealand under-20s squad for their preparation for the World Junior Championships.
— The XV (@TheXV) September 26, 2020
“I went through the Under 20s tournament and I started to be myself as a rugby player again. I wasn’t thinking so much about the outcome, I guess, but I was just playing rugby. That’s where it really started.
“In 2015, the next year, I played a handful of games for the Chiefs. I was one year wiser and I started building a bit of momentum as a player and I started being confident at that level. I played in another Under 20s campaign, which we won, and it probably took until then that my confidence really built up inside me again as a rugby player.”
After becoming a regular for the Chiefs in 2016, Lienert-Brown was included in the All Blacks squad for The Rugby Championship as injury cover.
But just like his start at the Chiefs, injuries paved the way for his debut, with Sonny Bill Williams injured while on Sevens duty, while a concussion sidelined Ryan Crotty.
At just 21-years-old, Lienert-Brown was set for his test debut, but felt that he was more mentally prepared unlike his Chiefs debut a few years earlier.
“The best thing about my 2014 debut when I was 18 was, I learned so many lessons from that. In the same way, I was chucked in the deep end a little for my first game for the All Blacks. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but one promise I made to myself post that Chiefs debut was that if I had the opportunity again, I wouldn’t go into my shell.
“Against the Bulls, I made a couple of mistakes and I went into my shell a bit and I didn’t fully express myself. All week in the lead up to my All Blacks debut, I said to myself, ‘no matter what happens – even if I go out there and drop four balls in a row – I’m still going to express myself’.
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