Heavy artillery back for Highlanders

Ben Smith during the Highlanders captain's run at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on Thursday. PHOTO...
Ben Smith is one of the big names back on the Highlanders' team sheet. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH
This is show time - so the big stars have come back to play.

Predictably, the Highlanders have brought back all of their heavy artillery for the quarterfinal against the Waratahs in Sydney tomorrow night.

The two Smiths, Luke Whitelock, Rob Thompson and Tom Franklin all return to the starting team which will take on a largely unchanged Waratahs side.

The Highlanders were always going to bring out all their big guns for the do-or-die match and it was a relatively straightforward team to select.

The only minor surprise is James Lentjes winning the openside flank role ahead of All Black Dillon Hunt.

Hunt had been the leading tackler in the competition but might have paid the price for the below-par team effort against the Chiefs in Fiji last month.

Lentjes captained the team last week and got through plenty of work but there is not much between the two players.

Hunt does not even make the reserves as Elliot Dixon and Shannon Frizell are the two preferred loose forward options.

Matt Faddes, after a spell out of the picture, is the outside back reserve and Josh Ioane gets the place on the bench ahead of Fletcher Smith.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger told a press conference in Auckland yesterday there were only 23 players he could pick in the team.

The Highlanders have few injuries and Mauger said the side was happy where it was at and it was nice to be in a position to pick from an almost full squad.

Alex Ainley is the only new injury concern, the lock having injured his ankle.

"We are pretty confident where we are at and what is ahead of us.

"We have to look at taking the learnings from the past three weeks and perform as well as we know we can," he said.

The Waratahs handed out a harsh lesson to the Highlanders in May when the Australians won 40-12 although that victory was helped by the red card dismissal of Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura.

Mauger said the pressure would be on the Waratahs at home and going into the game as favourite.

Ben Smith said the players who had had a break had enjoyed the rest and were jumping to get out on the field.

The Waratahs will be desperate to put on a good performance after just one side from the Australian conference made it through the playoffs.

They have quality right across the paddock but had a limp entrance to the playoffs, going down 40-31 to the Brumbies in Sydney last week.

They have made just the one change to the side, winger Alex Newsome coming in for Cameron Clark.

The Waratahs are without captain Michael Hooper who is recovering from a hamstring injury. Even if the Waratahs win, Hooper will be a slim chance to get on the field next week.

Highlanders v Waratahs

Sydney, tomorrow (Saturday), 10.05pm

Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes,
Liam Squire, Jackson Hemopo, Tom Franklin, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Matt Faddes.
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley (captain), Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Will Miller, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Tolu Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom
Staniforth, Brad Wilkin, Jake Gordon, Cam Clark, Bryce Hegarty.

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