'It's not the All Blacks standard': Lienert-Brown ready for better year
Anton Lienert-Brown has challenged the All Blacks for better performances this season while coming to grips with a brand-new midfield partnership.
Having notched his 50th test against Fiji upon his return from injury in July, Lienert-Brown is easily the most experienced midfielder in the All Blacks squad this year.
Once fit and available, Ian Foster had no problem rushing Lienert-Brown straight back into the starting line-up at centre for the second test against Fiji in Hamilton, where he played for the first time along side new second-five David Havili.
The pair had growing pains in their first outing together, conceding a line break to Fiji in the first couple minutes through their channels and had a communication breakdown down the right touchline in the second half that would have been a certain try had they been on the same page.
For Lienert-Brown, he admits the new combination will take time to build and the more time they spend together the better. The pair are roommates this week in search of building a stronger connection that will pay dividends on the field.
“Obviously we haven’t played a lot together in the midfield before, we are roomies this week so it is good to connect,” Lienert-Brown told media on Tuesday. “You know combinations take time. So the more time we can spend together, the better.”
Lienert-Brown says he and Havili aren’t big gamers, so being bunked down together doesn’t mean time on the PlayStation as they work on shoring up the All Blacks midfield.
Lienert-Brown’s own time in the midfield has been choppy over his 50 tests. After originally playing exclusively at No 13, he moved to No 12 ahead of the 2019 World Cup as ex-All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen partnered him with Jack Goodhue.
Together, the duo were used as the preferred options over Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Ngani Laumape, and their partnership was continued by current All Blacks boss Ian Foster in his first season as head coach last year.
However, Lienert-Brown and Goodhue switched midfield spots and offered stability in the two roles after Rieko Ioane was tried in the first test as a centre. Once Lienert-Brown replaced Ioane, that’s how things remained for the entire test year.
With Goodhue sidelined due to injury for the 2021 season, Lienert-Brown will have to build a connection with a new midfield partner, which looks to be Havili after he stood out in July with solid performances at the centre of the All Blacks’ attacking plans.
“I just think, as long as I can do what I can do well and control, that’s all that matters. I try not read too much and just focus on my job,” Lienert-Brown said when asked about playing in so many midfield partnerships.
“I’m just trying to play to the best of my ability and help out where I can.”
With Lienert-Brown and Havili rooming together this week, all signs point to them being named in Foster’s side for the opening Bledisloe test.
While Havili demonstrated his attacking prowess against Fiji, Lienert-Brown brings defensive soundness to the midfield, making great reads, shutting down support lanes, sliding off would-be runners and working off the ball to keep the defensive line shape.
In 2020, he showed glimpses of more physicality in his game, delivering a jarring tackle on Marika Koroibete at Eden Park that sent the winger spinning sideways.
The 27-7 win over the Wallabies in that test, the second of last year’s Bledisloe Cup series, was one of New Zealand’s best that season, but Lienert-Brown insists that they are out to prove a point.
“Last year for us, we’ve talked about it, it wasn’t good enough. It’s not the All Blacks standard, so we want to be better,” he said. “We are driven to be better so this is a massive challenge for us to start in the right way.”
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