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Ben Smith back for Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/05/2017

Highlanders co-captain and All Blacks stalwart Ben Smith has overcome an ankle complaint to play from the first minute in his Super Rugby side's clash with the Waratahs in Dunedin.

The 30-year-old Smith has struggled for game time in 2017 after suffering a concussion in round one against the Chiefs and then an ankle strain in last month's 57-14 thumping of the Stormers.

He missed his side's perfect tour of South Africa and Perth as a result, and has made just six appearances this season.

But the 60-cap fullback has been named to start on Saturday, in what will be a record-equalling 127th Landers appearance and a key step towards full fitness for next month's British and Irish Lions Test series.

He'll likely overtake Anton Oliver as the club's most-capped player in next week's clash with the unbeaten Crusaders.

Elsewhere, loose forward Luke Whitelock returns from injury to pull on the No.8 jumper, pushing Elliot Dixon back to his preferred blindside role.

Waisake Naholo also slots straight back into the side after a one-match ban for his red card against the Bulls, while star halfback Aaron Smith will return to the run-on side after being rested last week.

Test first-five Lima Sopoaga retains his spot on the bench after making his comeback from a hamstring tear in Perth last weekend.

He'll be joined on the pine by Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown and Joe Wheeler but not Liam Squire, who continues his rehabilitation on a broken thumb.

The Waratahs have endured a horror Super Rugby campaign and have won just four games, but coach Tony Brown said his side would be on red alert.

"I know the players are all really looking forward to the challenge against a Waratahs side that includes so many Wallabies players," Brown said.

"It should be a good contest.

"It's always good to be home under the roof in front of our home fans, especially after being away for so long."

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (co-capt), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Tevita Li, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli. RESERVES: Ash Dixon (co-capt), Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Lima Sopoaga, Rob Thompson.

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