The Highlanders will have Aaron Smith back in a match which has become a must win for them.
He will be playing off the bench when they take on the Blues in Dunedin on Saturday.
He is fit again after an ankle injury he picked up a month ago in Auckland.
It is a crucial match for both teams as we move into Round 10 of the competition. The Blues are also coming off a lost last week which gives this game a bit of spice in a New Zealand conference that is normally very closely contested behind the Crusaders.
Luke Whitelock who missed last weeks match against the Crusaders will join Smith on the bench.
“His work ethic is outstanding,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said of the front rower he’s grown to admire over the season.
“He’s a diligent guy, a proud Blues man and I know it’s a proud moment for him.
The side has a settled look with the back-line unchanged and only one swap in the forwards from the side that narrowly lost to the Chiefs last weekend, with Sione Mafileo and Ofa Tuungafasi exchanging roles in the front-row.
This could be a close one comes Saturday.
Some Interesting Facts (OPTA)
- The Highlanders have won 10 of their last 14 matches against the Blues in Super Rugby (L4), succumbing to defeat in their most recent encounter however (33-26)
- The Highlanders are on a five-game losing streak (excluding draw v Crusaders in Round 5), they haven’t lost more than five in a row since an 11-game slump between Round 15 2012-Round 10 2013.
- The Blues haven’t visited another New Zealand Super Rugby club and come away with the victory since Round 2 2013 (L22), they haven’t beaten the Highlanders on their own track since Round 11 2011 (losing six since that occasion).
- The Highlanders have produced three straight Super Rugby games of 100% goal-kicking (13/13), since 2011 the only other time they have achieved this was Rounds 9-12 2014 (they had a bye in Round 10).
- Blues’ Rieko Ioane has made 18 clean breaks in Super Rugby 2019 so far, more than any other player, the All Blacks star scored a brace against the Highlanders back in Round 6 earlier this season.
Prediction: At home Highlanders will take it by 9
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Luke Whitelock (cc), 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisa, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.