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The rejig was the major change in a side looking to make it two wins in a row when it plays the Sunwolves in Tokyo tomorrow.
Matt Faddes will play fullback in place of Smith, who is on his second rest week of the season in line with All Blacks protocols.
The rest week leaves Smith available to play the remainder of the season without a break.
Faddes, a utility back, has started on the right wing over the past two weeks.
He snagged an intercept and ran 50m to score in last week's win over the Blues, a pleasing sight after he pulled up lame against the Crusaders a week earlier.
That leaves hard-hitting Sio Tomkinson to push out one spot to the right wing.
The 22-year-old has always looked most comfortable in the midfield and it is there he has been a constant for the Highlanders this year.
However, he has been used on the wing on occasion.
That past experience could yet be valuable.
Specialists out wide are thin on the ground, with Waisake Naholo, Richard Buckman and Tevita Nabura all injured.
Rob Thompson comes in at centre and partners Tei Walden in the midfield.
The loss of Smith's experience will be counterbalanced by the return of the other Smith - Aaron - to the starting line-up.
He made his comeback from injury off the bench last week and steps back in ahead of Kayne Hammington for tomorrow's match.
In the forwards, Luke Whitelock will captain the side from the blindside flank, while Shannon Frizell drops to the bench.
It is the only change in a pack which delivered one of its strongest performances of the year in last week's win over the Blues.
Building off that performance will be key for the Highlanders.
It marked their first win since February 22 and lifted them to the cusp of playoff contention in a log-jammed table.
A win over the bottom-placed Sunwolves would catapult them ahead of the Blues, who have a bye, and into a playoff spot.
However, that is no given.
The Sunwolves have shown their calibre with wins over the Chiefs and Waratahs this year.