Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown replaces Sonny Bill Williams in All Blacks

Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown has been called in to replace Sonny Bill Williams in the All Blacks.
KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown has been called in to replace Sonny Bill Williams in the All Blacks.

His midfield stocks have never been more depleted but Steve Hansen believes Sonny Bill Williams' season-ending injury could be beneficial in time.

Williams was ruled out for anywhere between six to nine months with an Achilles injury suffered in pool play with the sevens team at the Olympic Games in Rio.

His deflection adds to headaches in the All Blacks midfield in the post Ma'a Nonu-Conrad Smith era. Charlie Ngatai, a certain inclusion and probable starter, has been laid low with concussion issues and Hansen has now called in uncapped Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown.

Sonny Bill Williams could be out of action for up to nine months.
MARTY MELVILLE / PHOTOSPORT

Sonny Bill Williams could be out of action for up to nine months.

The 21-year-old is an immense talent, but his call-up is somewhat ahead of schedule. In a perfect world, that may have come on the end of year tour. The All Blacks will back themselves to get him up to speed but also won't rush his development, and he is therefore unlikely to see game time in the opening Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney next week.

Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa are the established midfield duo, with George Moala rounding out Hansen's options.

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Lienert-Brown's ability to cover both midfield roles gave him the edge over Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu, who made his test debut against Wales in June but was exposed defensively at times.

Losing a star asset such as Williams is a blow but not one the All Blacks can't overcome and Hansen felt the break could be good for the 31-year-old long-term.

"Most Achilles take five to six months to get back playing and another two or three months to really get it right so we'll just wait and see. He's coming back for an operation once he's finished up at the Games and I'll have a yarn to him then," Hansen said.

"It's always disappointing when you lose a world-class player and he plays in a position where we've already lost two guys overseas so it's not great for planning but it is what it is. You can't do anything about it.

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"If we thought any of the guys we sent over there that were in calculations for us weren't going to get injured we were kidding ourselves. It's a tough game. We ended up losing four players from the sevens team.

"Whilst it's really disappointing for the big man it's an opportunity for somebody else. If you look at the positive side of it for Sonny it gives him six or seven months where his body gets a break and he probably hasn't had that for a long time because he's such a good athlete right across the field and does so many different things. Eight or nine months off might frustrate him but it won't hurt him."

Julian Savea is the only Hurricanes player that will feature in a hit-out against Counties Manukau and Northland in Pukekohe on Friday night. Sam Cane's recovery from concussion is unlikely to see him used, and Dane Coles' fitness continues to be monitored.  

"He's sore as you can imagine. He probably came back a wee bit early but there was a final to be won so he's done that now he's got to get himself right."

 - Stuff

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