Smith 'extremely' disappointed to miss game

Ben Smith will need a big favour from his team-mates and the rugby gods if he is going to play for the Highlanders again.

The classy All Black outside back was expected to be named in the Highlanders' line-up for match against the Waratahs in Invercargill tomorrow night.

But the 33-year-old, who has signed with French club Pau and will leave New Zealand rugby after the World Cup, has been ruled out. The co-captain is still struggling with his troublesome hamstring and will not be taking his place in the 23 despite training with the team this week.

It is the Highlanders' final round-robin game and their slim playoff prospects rest on posting a handsome win and then anxiously waiting while other crucial results come through.

There are a lot of ifs in the scenarios. Too many for comfort.

Smith's presence would have been an enormous lift for the Dunedin-based franchise but it was not to be.

"He was pretty close [to being fit],'' coach Aaron Mauger said.

"Ben trained the first couple of days this week with the [expectation] of playing on Friday night. But he wasn't quite ready - first and foremost from a safety point of view. And from a conditioning point of view he wasn't able to go out there and confidently play the game.

"It was a collective decision that we made to pull him.

"He is extremely disappointed. He has worked very hard to be available for this game but, unfortunately, he could not quite get there.''

Should the Highlanders sneak into the playoffs, then Smith could be available.

If not, then his next game of rugby might be for his beloved Green Island in the Dunedin premier club competition. He is stranded on 49 games and what a treat it would be for the Miller Park faithful to see Smith turn out for his club.

And if he has played his last game for the Highlanders, the fans have plenty of good memories to look back on. The devastating outside back has played 152 matches for the franchise and in every match he has oozed class.

He has scorched his way to the tryline 40 times since making his debut for the Highlanders against the Brumbies at Carisbrook in 2009. And in 76 tests for the All Blacks he has amassed 33 tries. It is a wonderful strike rate from one of the greats.

But Smith has been sidelined since he fell awkwardly in the tackle of Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson in early May. Despite his very best effort to be fit, he has for once come up short.


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