Ben Smith returns to boost Highlanders
July 17, 2014
The Highlanders missed All Blacks star Ben Smith against the Crusaders © Getty Images
Ben Smith has recovered from the leg infection that forced him to miss the Highlanders' match against the Crusaders last week, and he will start in the Super Rugby qualifying final against the Sharks at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
The All Blacks fullback was hospitalised for three days with an infection, thought to have come from a superficial graze in training ahead of the Highlanders' 44-16 loss to the Waratahs two weeks ago, and he subsequently missed the final round of the regular season. Smith is just one of five changes made by Jamie Joseph to the team humbled by the Crusaders last week.
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Up front, Ged Robinson starts at hooker and Jarrad Hoeata at lock as Joseph looks to improve the set-piece against the South African conference winners. In the backline, Lima Sopoaga has been recalled to the playmaking role at five-eighth, partnering Phil Burleigh at No.12 with Trent Renata moving back to the reserves.
The Highlanders' scrum and lineout struggled in their heavy losses to New South Wales Waratahs and the Crusaders leading into their first play-offs appearance for 12 years, and Joseph said they would have to hold their own in the possession battle against opponents he expects to kick a lot and attack through their powerful rolling mauls and scrum.
"You have to be at your absolute best when you play against the best teams in this competition, and I'm not sure we've done that in the past two weeks," Joseph said.
Highlanders: Ben Smith; Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne; Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith; Nasi Manu, Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon; Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata; Chris King, Ged Robinson, Kane Hames. Replacements: Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, JP Koen, Josh Bekhuis, Tom Franklin, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Gareth Evans.