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Highlanders relief over Ben Smith's return

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/03/2017

Co-captain Ben Smith's return to Super Rugby to face the Hurricanes has provided some relief for the injury-hit Highlanders. © Dianne Manson/Getty Images Co-captain Ben Smith's return to Super Rugby to face the Hurricanes has provided some relief for the injury-hit Highlanders. There was a sigh of relief that felt more like a light breeze wafting through Highlanders HQ this week.

Finally, some good news on the injury front for the Super Rugby franchise.

Co-captain Ben Smith's return from concussion was the bright light in an otherwise gloomy scenario for coach Tony Brown.

The southerners have lost 15 players to injury in the lead up to, and during, the first three rounds of the 2017 campaign.

Brown was quick to mention the importance of Smith's return to a battle-wounded side.

"The biggest asset Ben gives us is confidence for the team, and especially the young guys who are having to replace a few of our players," he said.

"They can go out there and know that Ben Smith is there. Most players play better when he's on the field."

The Highlanders line up against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday night in what will be their fourth consecutive New Zealand derby to start the season.

Westpac Stadium has fond memories for the visitors - it was the site of their maiden title in 2015 courtesy of a 21-14 win over the Hurricanes.

However, they will be without two key members of their backline, with first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga and wing Waisake Naholo out to hamstring injuries.

Brown said Sopoaga's eight-week stint on the sidelines was a chance for replacement Fletcher Smith to shine.

"I think he's is probably the most skilful guy going around New Zealand, how fast his hand speed is, and he's got real speed," Brown said of Fletcher Smith.

He added that Smith shouldn't be worrying about going head to head with All Black Beauden Barrett.

"I think he needs to go out and play his game," he said. "If he can play his game, it's pretty electric."

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