You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Smith to raise ton for changed Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 28/03/2017
Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders. © Getty Images Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders.

A mentally recuperating Aaron Smith will raise his Super Rugby century when the Highlanders host the Rebels in Dunedin.

All Blacks halfback Smith will become the fifth player from the southern franchise to reach 100 games, following Anton Oliver (127), current captain Ben Smith (123), Jimmy Cowan (108) and Chris King (106).

The milestone on Friday will be appreciated by the 28-year-old, who addressed media this week for the first time since the infamous "toilet tryst" with a woman at Christchurch Airport last October, which derailed his form and confidence.

Smith spoke of his rehabilitation and the return to the love of rugby which he lost during a public fall from grace.

Coach Tony Brown says no player deserves plaudits more than his brilliant halfback.

"Aaron has been the best nine in the world for some time now and is such an important part of our game," Brown said.

"He joins a small group of amazing rugby players and he deserves his place in that company, he's earned his selection in every one of those 100 games through hard work and consistency of performance."

The Highlanders are fielding five starting changes from the side who scraped past the Brumbies 18-13 in Canberra, leaving them with a 2-3 win-loss record.

First five-eighth Marty Banks is handed his first start of the season, pushing Fletcher Smith to the reserves bench.

The other backline change is the recall of winger Tevita Li for Patelesio Tomkinson, who made his debut in Canberra.

Flanker Gareth Evans and lock Joe Wheeler replace Elliot Dixon and Alex Ainley respectively while last weekend's late try-scoring here Aki Seiuli succeeds Daniel Lienert-Brown at prop.

A notable inclusion on the bench is uncapped Wellington-born loose forward Tupou Sopoaga, who played three seasons of NRL with Cronulla and Penrith before returning to rugby union. He is the brother of injured Highlanders playmaker Lima Sopoaga.

While the Highlanders sit last in the New Zealand conference, they have improved to 11th overall.

The Rebels are 18th and last overall, having lost their four opening games. That includes a heartbreaking 32-25 home defeat against the Waratahs last weekend, when they blew a 19-point halftime lead.

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (capt), Tevita Li, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Elliot Dixon, Tupou Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon