Lions tour: Back in black, Anton Lienert-Brown continues to thrive on centre stage video

Anton Lienert-Brown has staked his claim for a midfield spot to face the Lions.

Anton Lienert-Brown has staked his claim for a midfield spot to face the Lions.

What is it about that black jersey that seems to bring out the best in Anton-Lienert Brown?

Where some buckle beneath the weight of expectation, or shy away from the glare of the spotlight, the 22-year-old Waikato and Chiefs midfielder seems to thrive on it.

The jump from Super Rugby to the test arena is a chasm for many; but it's a leap this Christchurch-born and schooled rugby player makes with apparent ease.

He was the find of 2016 after being called into the All Blacks for the Rugby Championship as an injury replacement (when Chiefs team-mate Charlie Ngatai was struck down with head problems), going on to play nine tests (seven as a starter) and solidifying an outstanding midfield partnership with Ryan Crotty.

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That continued apace in 2017 with another standout display in the pre-Lions hitout against Samoa at Eden Park on Friday when the gifted 22-year-old they call Alby was one of the best players on the paddock, and all but sealed a spot in the 23 to face the tourists on Saturday at the same venue.

Lienert-Brown doesn't know why his transition to the test arena has been so seamless, but did say after forming a promising first-up midfield partnership with Sonny Bill Williams in the 78-0 thrashing of Samoa: "I love being part of this environment. I've been really fortunate to have been on the end of some great plays, and we've got a pretty special forward pack that helps us backs do what we can do."

It was an important hitout for him to leave behind a few of his Super Rugby struggles, too.

"I guess during Super [Rugby] there was times where my form probably struggled a bit, but I knew if I worked hard, and trusted the process, good things would come. Things definitely went my way [against Samoa], and that will give me confidence."

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It should come as no surprise that the dynamic with Williams was all but seamless, apart from a couple of defensive misses early on. Though it was their first test together, they have plenty of Chiefs history to call on.

"I guess it's just his physical presence and I know if you run good lines off him, more often than not he can get the ball away," said Lienert-Brown of the benefits of playing alongside Williams.

Williams is more than happy to return the compliment.

"He's really keen, an exciting young guy and he's a good dude too. It's good to see his work ethic paying off. He's got a tremendous offloading game, and what I really like is he's always keen to learn."

There's also a nice rapport between the two, as evidenced by their teasing each other about the Wayne Smith influence at both the Chiefs and All Blacks.

Williams reckoned Lienert-Brown's "old man Smithy" would have been happy with his performance against Samoa, adding: "Smithy says he's like a son to him, which he probably is because he's there most weekends."

Told about Williams' comments, Lienert-Brown smiled and popped back: "Really? Nah Smithy is his uncle. He's got his own room at Smithy's house .... I first met Smithy at school (Christchurch Boys High), and he was a big influence in me getting to the Chiefs. He's looked after me since and really helped my game.

"It's the same with Sonny. He's someone I've always looked up to, and he's helped me at the Chiefs and he's helped me coming into this environment. I owe a lot to them both."

And the Lions?

"I'm a bit nervous but also massively excited. It's going to be enjoyable, and we're going to work hard to make sure we get things right."

 - Stuff


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