The All Blacks, watched at training in Auckland today by World Cup winners Dan Carter and Conrad Smith, have welcomed back former spectator Anton Lienert-Brown, the midfielder having served his suspension for a high tackle in the Super Rugby final.
Lienert-Brown admitted to being frustrated at having to sit out the Argentina and South Africa victories due to his high tackle on new All Black Dallas McLeod during the Chiefs’ defeat to the Crusaders in Hamilton last month but he now comes into the frame for the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Melbourne on Saturday.
Able to play either second-five or centre, it remains to be seen whether the selectors start him ahead of incumbents Jordie Barrett or Rieko Ioane or pick him on the reserves bench but either way the 28-year-old is relieved to be back in contention.
“There are 36 players but only 23 can play so every week there are 13 guys itching to get out there,” he said after training at Mt Smart Stadium today.
“But we wouldn’t have it any other way and I don’t think we’d be here if you didn’t have that hunger inside yourself.
“Credit to Jordie and Rieko, they’ve done an extremely good job, and Braydon [Ennor] has been awesome off the bench. It’s healthy, it’s good for the jersey and that’s what this environment needs.
“I’m human and there have been times when I’ve been frustrated but you’ve got to quickly get over it and move on.”
Lienert-Brown, who has played 60 Tests, earned his suspension for an ugly hit on new midfield rival McLeod direct from a kick-off in the Super Rugby final and is clearly raring to go after getting his three-match suspension cut by one week due to his World Rugby remedial tackle course.
“Did the video course. I’m an expert now. I feel like a new man, I feel like I can tackle now,” he quipped.
Like the logjam at lock with Sam Whitelock’s return from injury a challenge to the new status quo of Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett, Lienert-Brown’s return could change up the Jordie Barrett/Ioane axis, with bench player Ennor an obvious potential casualty.
Lienert-Brown can play either midfield position but is perhaps more likely at centre due to Jordie Barrett’s firm grip on the No12 jersey after his transition from fullback and wing last year.
McLeod, yet to make his Test debut, is another option, but is more likely to be involved in the return Bledisloe Cup Test in Dunedin the weekend after.
And Lienert-Brown could do worse than turn to Smith for inspiration, the former midfielder a notable hands-on attendee along with former No.10 Carter at training today.
“It’s awesome to have a legend like Conrad in the group,” Lienert-Brown said.
“He doesn’t say a lot but when he does say something special the midfielders take that on board. They haven’t come in here and tried to show you the way. Just having their presence around the group is massive.”
Of the Wallabies, Lienert-Brown said: “When they play us they go up another level and with Eddie Jones there now they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve. They would have stewed on a disappointing couple of weeks for them and they wouldn’t have been sitting comfortably on their week off. We know they’ll play their A game.”