Anton Lienert-Brown is the leading candidate to be named as a starting midfielder for the All Blacks against South Africa in a World Cup match on Saturday which will significantly shape the tournament for both teams.
Lienert-Brown, still only 24, is currently both the form centre and second-five for the All Blacks given his versatility and durability and he has to start in one of those positions at Yokohama because he is simply too good to leave out; a bit like loose forward Ardie Savea, who, after initially being regarded an impact player, demands to be on the field from the start.
The question is; where to play Lienert-Brown and who to partner him with, as Jack Goodhue hasn’t played since pulling a hamstring against Australia in Perth on August 10 and Sonny Bill Williams has recently been troubled by a tight calf which kept him out of the warm-up against Tonga in Hamilton, but which hasn’t seriously troubled him since, despite the wild recent rumours of his imminent return home which no doubt sent his phone abuzz.
Ryan Crotty did play in that match at Waikato Stadium; 65 minutes at No12 on his return from a broken thumb. He has proven his fitness and would be a helpful communicator outside his Crusaders teammate Richie Mo’unga, but that may not be enough to earn him selection. Finding the right two-player combination of the four available must rate as the toughest problem the selectors face this week.
For Lienert-Brown, playing alongside potential midfield partner Williams, now 34, is a dream come true and another opportunity on the biggest stage would be treasured.
“Growing up he was someone I looked up to,” Lienert-Brown said in Tokyo. “I’m half Samoan, half Kiwi, just like him. I guess that was an instant connection.
“To see his achievements and how he went about his work was truly inspiring. I guess I never thought I would be in the same team as him one day so to be in this environment is awesome and to call him a mate is pretty special now.
“He’s just one of the greatest men you could meet on and off the field. He’s a true professional and one of the loveliest guys off the field as well.”
With All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster stating that Saturday’s match is of the utmost importance in terms of making a statement for themselves, and, realistically, other contending teams to try to measure up to, the line-up announced tomorrow will be the strongest possible team they can name, with presumably only lock Brodie Retallick still on the casualty list.
The front row virtually names itself, as does the loose forward trio of Savea, Sam Cane and Kieran Read, with halfback Aaron Smith and Mo’unga presumably the inside back combination and Beauden Barrett at the back, with, probably, Ben Smith on the right wing. George Bridge is a big chance for the left wing spot, which leaves only Sam Whitelock’s locking partner as the other big unknown.
Who gets the nod between either Patrick Tuipulotu or Scott Barrett? Tuipulotu has pressed his claims as well as at any other time of his career, while Barrett is back following his red card suspension.
Barrett has an edge in terms of quality but the selectors may be tempted to start Tuipulotu in order to try to take the sting out of the huge Boks forwards, with Barrett adding impact off the reserves bench.
Sitting together in front of the media at the team’s luxurious Tokyo hotel, Tuipulotu and Lienert-Brown, two of the most sincere and well-intentioned players in the team, both have excellent arguments to start.
For Tuipulotu, who missed the last World Cup in the United Kingdom due to injury, this tournament has been a long time coming and the first game against the old enemy is an entirely appropriate way to start.
“It helps,” he said, as far as added focus is concerned. “World Cup aside, any time we play South Africa it’s a big test match. It all adds to the pressure.”
Lienert-Brown, when asked by an Irish reporter: “When did you first dream of becoming an All Black”, responded: “When I could first dream.”
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Publish date : 2019-09-17 18:46:50