CENTRE ANTON LIENERT-BROWN will make his debut for New Zealand on Saturday as injuries force multiple changes for the second Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Wellington.
After the All Blacks’ 42-8 decimation of the Wallabies in Sydney last weekend, coach Steve Hansen is expecting a “physical and high-intensity” response from the Australians.
Despite the challenge ahead, he sprung a surprise in opting for the untried Lienert-Brown to plug a midfield gap ahead of his Waikato Chiefs teammate Seta Tamanivalu, who played in two Tests against Wales in June.
The 21-year-old Lienert-Brown was not on the All Blacks’ radar when the championship squad was named less than four weeks ago, but of the four centres originally named, only Malakai Fekitoa is still standing.
Lienert-Brown will debut at inside centre, replacing Ryan Crotty who suffered a head knock last week, with George Moala and Sonny Bill Williams already sidelined.
The backline shake-up also sees Ben Smith return to full-back in a direct swap with Israel Dagg, who moves to the wing, with Julian Savea promoted to start on the other wing.
In the forwards, Joe Moody returns from injury to start at loosehead prop, with Wyatt Crockett set to play his 50th Test from the bench. One-Test hooker James Parsons is also added to the bench, along with centre Tamanivalu.
“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.”
Australia have lost the last 18 Tests they have played against the All Blacks in New Zealand, stretching back to 2001.
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New Zealand (15-1): Ben Smith; Israel Dagg, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Replacements: James Parsons, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Seta Tamanivalu.
– © AFP 2016
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