Lienert-Brown to make debut for All Blacks against Australia
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Anton Lienert-Brown will make his test debut at center as part of a rearranged All Blacks backline in Saturday's Rugby Championship test against Australia.
The 21-year old Chiefs midfielder will start at inside center beside Malakai Fekitoa as New Zealand copes with a spate of injuries to midfield backs. Sonny Bill Williams, George Moala, Charlie Ngatai and Ryan Crotty have all been lost to injury, forcing the All Blacks to hand Lienert-Brown his first test cap earlier than planned.
A further injury to winger Waisake Naholo has forced a backline reorganization. Israel Dagg moves from the right wing to fullback, fullback Israel Dagg moves to the right wing and Julian Savea will start on the left. Two-test center Seta Tamanivalu joins the reserves bench.
In other changes, Joe Moody returns to the starting lineup at loosehead prop, displacing Wyatt Crockett who will make his 50th test appearance from the bench. Dane Coles, returning from a rib injury, will start at hooker after being forced to play almost all of last weekend's test against the Wallabies at Sydney when starter Codie Taylor suffered an injury.
Reserve hooker Nathan Harris has been lost to a season-ending knee injury, leading to the inclusion on the bench of Blues hooker James Parsons, who played his only previous test in 2014.
Head coach Steve Hansen said he was confident Lienert-Brown would be able to make the step up to test rugby. He said the young player had shown confidence and "mental fortitude" during the All Blacks' test buildup.
"He had a very good Super season with strong performances throughout and we expect him to take the step up," Hansen said. "We're really looking forward to seeing him play in the international arena.
"It'll be a special night for Anton on Saturday and he and his family can be proud of what he has achieved."
New Zealand beat Australia 42-8 in last weekend's test at Sydney to tighten its grip on the Bledisloe Cup, played annually between the nations, which it has held since 2003. Saturday's match is the second of three Bledisloe Cup tests New Zealand and Australia will play during the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand is unbeaten in its last 18 tests against Australia in New Zealand, going back to 2001, and in its last 41 tests at home against all opponents.
The latest injuries will test the All Blacks' depth but Australia is also struggling with injury setbacks, losing centers Matt Guiteau and Matt Toomua and winger Rob Horne.
"This test match will tell us a lot about ourselves and Australia," Hansen said. "There's no doubt that one of the hardest things to do in sport is to back up a big performance with another big performance.
"It's totally a mental thing so that is something we've been working really hard on this week, getting our feet back on the ground and our attitudes right for what is going to be a really physical and demanding test. As always, the expectation we have placed on ourselves is to improve in everything we do."
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett is poised on 199 test points after scoring six tries in his last six tests and reserve flyhalf Aaron Cruden has 299 test points.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Reserves: James Parsons, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Seta Tamanivalu.