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Otago has been boosted by the inclusion of hooker Liam Coltman and first five-eighth Josh Ioane for this week but one wonders - where is Ben Smith?

Smith is a notable absentee from the players who have been sent back to provincial rugby this week.

Nine players from the 34-strong All Black squad have returned to play for their provinces in the third round of the Mitre 10 Cup.

Along with Ioane and Coltman, Brad Weber (Hawke's Bay), Vaea Fifita (Wellington), Braydon Ennor (Canterbury), Atu Moli (Tasman), Jackson Hemopo (Manawatu), Rieko Ioane (Auckland) and Luke Jacobson (Waikato) have all been released to play for their provincial sides.

But Smith, despite not playing in the Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland last Saturday, has not been included.

Smith has hardly been overtaxed this season.

The 33-year-old played no pre-season matches and then just nine games for the Highlanders in their 17-game season.

He then played against Argentina, South Africa and the first game of the Bledisloe Cup series before being left out of the 23-man team to face the Wallabies at Eden Park last Saturday.

Otago coach Ben Herring was not counting on getting Smith back and that is likely to be the way it plays out.

Smith injured his hamstring for the Highlanders against the Chiefs in early May and there was doubt whether he would get back to play for the franchise.

He finally returned and played in the quarterfinal against the Crusaders in June.

There had been plenty of talk Smith was still feeling the effects of the hamstring injury while with the All Blacks but All Black coach Steve Hansen said last week Smith was dropped for the Eden Park test because of changes made by the selectors and not because of injury.

Smith has played 44 games for Otago, having made his debut in 2007.

He last played for the province in 2012 when he made three appearances, including the national provincial championship final in which Otago lost to Counties-Manukau.

Otago is set to play Hawke's Bay in Napier on Thursday.

Despite missing the test on Saturday, Smith is a certainty to make the World Cup squad.


Strange, he needs some game time to get back near his best. You think it would be a win win for Otago, Ben, The All Blacks and of course southern fans?







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