Report: All Blacks lose another star to injury ahead of July test series against Tonga and Fiji
The Herald reports the 26-year-old’s elbow has been locking up in recent weeks, with scans revealing bone fragment concerns that required minor keyhole surgery.
The successful surgery is expected to leave Lienert-Brown sidelined for New Zealand’s July 3 test against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland and the July 10 test against Fiji at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The Chiefs veteran could recover in time for the second Fijian test at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton on July 17, according to the Herald, but his absence in at least the first two tests will leave significant hole in Ian Foster’s side.
Having been in the All Blacks set-up since 2016, Lienert-Brown has accrued 49 test caps and was used heavily during the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
He was again used as a regular starter last year, playing at centre alongside Jack Goodhue, who was deployed at second-five.
With Goodhue ruled out for the season due to an ACL injury and Ngani Laumape set to leave for France in the coming weeks, Lienert-Brown stood as by far the most accomplished available midfielder in New Zealand prior to his surgery.
However, Foster will now be tasked with competing against the two Pacific Island nations without three of his top midfielders, leaving him bereft of many experienced options in that area of the squad.
Blues star Rieko Ioane is in the second year of his full-time switch from the wing to the midfield at the Auckland franchise and will now be the most established midfield candidate at Foster’s disposal.
Despite his 34 test caps, Ioane is yet to prove himself as an international midfielder, with his only opportunity last year coming in the first Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Wellington, where he butchered a certain try and was caught out defensively.
Following that match, Foster used the 24-year-old either as a wing or a bench reserve for the remainder of the test season.
How will tonight’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final be won? @TheChaseRugby analyses how the Blues and the Highlanders have approached the season – and what to look out for in the all-Kiwi clash. #SuperRugbyTT #BLUvHIGhttps://t.co/dhlYM6tzQN
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Whether the All Blacks boss has faith in Ioane to perform in the midfield next month remains to be seen, but in Crusaders trio David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Braydon Ennor, Foster has a promising, yet inexperienced, group of contenders to pick from.
Between the three of them there are just four test caps, with Fainga’anuku uncapped at test level, but all three have shown their class at various stages of the Super Rugby season.
Havili and Fainga’anuku combined well to impress in the midfield for the Crusaders throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa, while Ennor worked his way back into the franchise’s starting lineup after nine months of action as a result of an ACL injury.
All three players are tipped to make Foster’s upcoming squad, which will be announced next week, and with Lienert-Brown now unavailable for at least the first two tests, it’s not unfathomable to suggest two of those three could start in the midfield against Tonga and/or Fiji.
Foster may be wary of Ennor’s recent injury return, though, while Fainga’anuku has drawn critics for the defensive side of his game.
But, the 21-year-old also offers versatility by being able to play on the wing, and – with a 1.88m, 109kg frame – provides plenty of physicality with ball in hand.
That made for a good partnership with Havili, who’s skill set is more comparable to that of a playmaker, in the Crusaders’ midfield, and Foster may look to utilise that chemistry without a raft of his frontline players available.
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The only other capped midfielder in New Zealand is Peter Umaga-Jensen, but the one-test Hurricanes powerhouse struggled to impress in Super Rugby this year with limited game time with only five starts from 10 appearances throughout 2021.
Other options, such as recently-named Maori All Blacks midfielders Quinn Tupaea, Alex Nankivell and Billy Proctor, could come into the reckoning, but the loss of Lienert-Brown will no doubt hurt the All Blacks’ depth across the board.
The news of Lienert-Brown’s injury will be a particularly hefty blow given the All Blacks already have a raft of players unavailable for the Tonga and Fiji tests because of injury.
In addition to Goodhue’s season-ending knee injury, captain Sam Cane is out of action until later in the year due to a pectoral injury sustained in March.
First-choice props Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi will also be unavailable after picking up foot and knee injuries, respectively, while rising Highlanders star Folau Fakatava’s All Blacks chances ended along with his season when he tore his ACL in April.
Factor in Laumape’s defection to Stade Francais and Caleb Clarke’s commitment to the Olympics with the All Blacks Sevens side, and the All Blacks will be without numerous key figures next month.
Just who Foster decides to replace them with will be revealed when he names his first 36-man squad of the year on Monday evening.
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