Smith's return to Highlanders massive boost

Ben Smith. Photo: Getty Images
Ben Smith. Photo: Getty Images
Ben Smith will play at least one more game for the Highlanders.

The classy All Black outside back has been named in a settled-looking side for the quarterfinal against the Crusaders in Christchurch tomorrow night.

Smith has been sidelined since he suffered a hamstring injury during the Highlanders' 31-31 draw with the Chiefs in early May.

He will leave New Zealand rugby at the end of the season and it appeared he might have played his last game for the Highlanders.

But the Dunedin-based team slipped into the Super Rugby playoffs courtesy of a big win against the Waratahs in Invercargill on Friday night.

That has given Smith, who has played 152 games for the Highlanders, a chance to don the jersey again. His presence is a huge boost for his side, coach Aaron Mauger said.

''His influence in this side is massive [not only] for what he can do on the field in terms of his action, but he just inspires people with his energy,'' Mauger said.

The Highlanders have a much more menacing look with recent returnees Liam Squire, Jackson Hemopo and Waisake Naholo also bolstering the side's quality.

There are two other changes to the run-on side which defeated the Waratahs 49-12.

Tevita Li makes way for Sio Tomkinson on the left wing. Tomkinson is a more robust defender and there is likely to be plenty of heavy traffic nipping down the blind.

''He is one of our strongest defenders in our team and it is going to be a physical battle.

''We are expecting the ball to be wet ... and we just think his ability to defend out in those wide channels [will be needed].

''He is a midfielder primarily but he has also played really well on the wing for us this year. He has a great kicking game and he is tough, and that's what we are going to need.''

With the Highlanders opting for a six forwards-two backs split on the bench, Tomkinson's versatility was also another major reason he got the nod.

In the other change, Daniel Lienert-Brown starts ahead of Ayden Johnstone in the front row.

Mauger said the wet conditions which greeted his team in Invercargill last week were the ''perfect dress rehearsal'' for the game against the the Crusaders.

The Highlanders controlled territory well, they were physical and they ''worked hard for each other''.

''Do those three things well and you give yourself a chance to win.''

The Crusaders will start as favourite but Mauger is keen to remind everyone the score is still 0-0.

First five-eighth Josh Ioane will be key in keeping the big Crusaders pack running backwards.

''If you look at Josh Ioane's game last week there is a real step up in his game and all-around performance. We know that he can run and that he is tough.

''But I thought how he controlled the game and the field position was really critical last week and it set us up to score some points.''

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