All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has called up Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown to replace the injured Sonny Bill Williams in their Rugby Championship squad.
For the first time in years New Zealand’s depth in midfield will be tested. Not only has Williams been ruled out for six to eight months with an Achilles injury, but probable first-choice centre Charlie Ngatai is still recovering from a concussion issue.
The 21-year-old Brown is regarded as a talented player, but ideally the brains trust would have wanted to ease him into the Test arena.
Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa are currently the established centre partnership for New Zealand with George Moala serving as a back-up should there be further injuries.
While Brown is uncapped, his ability to cover both inside and outside centre probably gave him the nod ahead of Seta Tamanivalu, who made his test debut against Wales in June but was exposed defensively at times.
While then loss of the experienced Williams is undoubtedly a setback, Hansen believes his injury could be beneficial in the long run.
“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 (Olympic) Games and I’ll have a yarn to him then,” Hansen told stuff.co.nz.
“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.
“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.”