Lienert-Brown enjoying healthy competition with de Groot

Highlander Daniel Lienert-Brown is tackled by Moana Pasifika players during a Super Rugby Pacific...
Highlander Daniel Lienert-Brown is tackled by Moana Pasifika players during a Super Rugby Pacific match in Dunedin recently. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel Lienert-Brown is just as excited as the kids around him.

The prop is a veteran anyway with 118 games for the Highlanders under his belt.

At 31, in comparison to the greenhorns in the youngest squad in Highlanders history, a cruel comedian might label him a geriatric.

Lienert-Brown, the sole survivor from the Super Rugby-winning team in 2015, will have none of that talk, and there is a glint in his eye and a spring in his step as he prepares for a rare start against the Rebels in Melbourne tonight.

"I don’t think I’m that old, but then you compare yourselves to the lads," he said.

"It’s a young group of lads but it’s also pretty exciting."

New Zealand rugby players are heading for overseas pastures in their 20s these days but Lienert-Brown, who is contracted to the Highlanders through the 2025 season, is having too much fun to think about leaving now.

"I’m just trying to thrive rather than survive, and I’m pretty driven to keep getting better."

Lienert-Brown has had to maintain that internal drive as his recent time at the Highlanders has been all about the bench.

That is what happens when a generational prop like Ethan de Groot emerges, but the old bull has never been interested in letting his young colleague have an easy path to the No 1 jersey.

"I still compete with Ethan. I’m always trying to do what he’s doing.

"It’s also carrying a bit of a chip on my shoulder, really. Ethan is at the pinnacle and I want to be there too. But it’s in the most positive way. It’s competitive, not ugly. We’re all there to help each other."

His preparation this week, knowing he was starting in Melbourne and not being used off the bench, was no different.

"It’s still about excitement and energy, and trying to motivate the lads, because this is an important game for us."

The Rebels might be financially doomed off the field but they have done well on it, winning four of their seven games and sitting fifth in the table.

They pack the most power of the five Australian teams with captain Sam Talakai shining at tighthead and human missile Taniela Tupou coming off the bench to cause chaos.

"They’ve got pretty good forwards in general, but their two tightheads are both internationals.

"We know we will have our work cut out for us but it’s up to us to meet the challenge."

The Rebels are seeking three straight Super Rugby wins for the first time in four years.

Their record against New Zealand teams is horrid - they have won just one of their past 16 transtasman games, and of course that was against the Highlanders - but it is not as bad as the Highlanders’ run of 19 straight losses to Kiwi sides.

What you get with the Rebels is what you see.

They pack plenty of power, they have a dangerous set piece, they get into the attacking zone more than any team in the competition, and they have backs like Carter Gordon and Andrew Kellaway who can create and finish.

This is no easy assignment for the Highlanders, who must bounce back from their nasty Hurricanes loss as they face a crucial few weeks in their campaign.

"We’re obviously playing teams around us on the table, and that’s always important," coach Clarke Dermody said.

"We were disappointed with how we finished before the bye against the Hurricanes. They’re a class outfit but we don’t feel like we put ourselves at all in that game.

"We know the challenge we face against the Rebels. They’re on a bit of a high, and they’re playing a brand of rugby that suits them."

Super Rugby
Melbourne, 9.35pm (NZ time)

Highlanders: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jonah Lowe, Sam Gilbert, Jona Nareki, Ajay Faleafaga, Folau Fakatava, Nikora Broughton, Billy Harmon (captain), Sean Withy, Pari Pari Parkinson, Oliver Haig, Saula Ma’u, Henry Bell, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves: Ricky Jackson, Ethan de Groot, Rohan Wingham, Hugo Plummer, Will Stodart, James Arscott, Matt Whaanga, Connor Garden-Bachop.

Rebels: Andrew Kellaway, Lachie Anderson, Filipo Daugunu, David Feliuai, Darby Lancaster, Carter Gordon, Ryan Louwrens, Vaolini Ekuasi, Maciu Nabolakasi, Josh Kemeny, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Sam Talakai (captain), Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon.

Reserves: Alex Mafi, Isaac Kailea, Taniela Tupou, Angelo Smith, Daniel Maiava, Jack Maunder, Matt Proctor, Nick Jooste.