Lienert-Brown in hostile territory
Anton Lienert-Brown will have a few mates in the grandstands at AMI Stadium tonight. Don’t think they’ll be cheering for him, though.
It will be a return home to Christchurch for the Chiefs midfielder in the Super Rugby semifinal against the Crusaders.
The born and bred Cantab went through Christchurch Boys’ High School and it was the savvy recruitment of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith which lured him north to Waikato and into Super Rugby at just 18 years old.
Now 22, Lienert-Brown is all of a sudden one of the country’s top midfielders, after last year debuting for the All Blacks and now having 13 tests to his name. But while his mates back in Christchurch wouldn’t shout louder for anyone else while he’s wearing the silver fern, it’s a bit of a different story when it comes to returning there as an invader.
His family in red and black territory have easily converted to being fans of the Chiefs and Highlanders - with brother Daniel further south - ‘‘but some of my friends, they’ve been more hard to sway’’, said Lienert-Brown, who is expecting to hear some banter thrown his way from the stands.
There was certainly the chance to make his mates’ wish and sign with the Crusaders from next season, with their coach Scott Robertson sounding him out but, in May, Lienert-Brown re-signed with the Chiefs through till 2020, so this weekend’s occasion will be all the more special, with the Chiefs not having played in Christchurch since round one last year.
‘‘I haven’t seen some of my family - my sister and her daughter for a while, so it’ll be good to catch up with them, and obviously Mum and Dad, and Nana and Granddad. So it’s going to be extra motivation to perform in front of them,’’ said Lienert-Brown, who was preparing to reacquaint himself with the Christchurch chill of an eight degree game-day high and a low of minus four.
‘‘They’re used to it and I’m not, so I’ll be taking my skivvy down and they’ll probably still be in their shorts,’’ he chuckled.
The Chiefs can indeed turn up the heat and cause a boilover, but it’s going to be a stiff task following their arduous travel schedule. However, Lienert-Brown noted that at this stage of the season all the hard yards had been done and they knew they were fit enough, so it was just about getting clarity on their tasks and to ‘‘trust the process’’.
‘‘There’s good excitement amongst the group,’’ he said. ‘‘Mainly it’s going to be a mental thing. I’m sure an opportunity to play a semifinal against the Crusaders in Christchurch is pretty motivating, so I’m sure the boys will forget about the travel pretty quickly.’’
Lienert-Brown’s battle against Jack Goodhue should be a goody, with the pair having been teammates under Robertson in the New Zealand Under-20 side which claimed the world title in 2015 (Lienert-Brown at centre and Goodhue on the right wing), as well as being together in the All Blacks’ camp for the series against the British and Irish Lions.
‘‘We get on really well, and he’s a bit of a character,’’ LienertBrown said. ‘‘And he’s been playing some quality footy this year.
‘‘So I’m looking forward to that challenge as well. And I guess it’s always motivating when you’re up against some of the best in the competition.
‘‘I’ve got some good mates in that Crusaders team and obviously connections with the coaches, and I’d love nothing better to get one up on them. Obviously they’ve got bragging rights at the moment [from the 31-24 win in Fiji], and that’s more motivation.’’
Anton Lienert-Brown returns home to Christchurch this weekend and is hoping to disappoint the locals.