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Ben Smith back for Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/03/2017

The injury-ravaged Highlanders can finally breathe a sigh of relief after skipper Ben Smith was cleared to play the Hurricanes on Saturday.

The All Blacks vice-captain was briefly knocked out cold in his side's round-one loss to the Chiefs and has missed their subsequent matches against the Crusaders and Blues with concussion.

But he'll now be re-injected by boss Tony Brown into the Highlanders' XV as they look to nab their second win of 2017.

Elsewhere, Lima Sopoaga's hamstring injury in the side's 16-12 win over the Blues last week has opened up a spot for young gun Fletcher Smith.

The 22-year-old first-five will make just his third Super Rugby appearance, lining up against incumbent World Rugby player of the year Beauden Barrett.

Aaron Smith will resume his role as halfback.

"Fletcher has trained well and showed some good form in pre-season," Brown said.

"He's a young player with a lot of potential, and we back him to do a job for the team on Saturday."

All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo also injured his hamstring in the Eden Park wet and has been replaced by Richard Buckman, who moves over from fullback.

Brown has shuffled his deck in the loose forwards as well, with Elliot Dixon switching back to his preferred blindside role and Dillon Hunt selected as No.7.

Gareth Evans moves to the bench, while lock Joe Wheeler will play from the first minute due to the injury of Alex Ainley.

Highlanders regulars including Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon, Dan Pryor and James Lentjes and Jason Emery remain on the sidelines.

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (c), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Fletcher Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. RESERVES: Sekonia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Guy Millar, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes.

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