Super Rugby 2019: Aaron Smith returns for Highlanders in crunch clash against Blues

The Highlanders have welcomed back two All Blacks for their crucial Super Rugby clash with the Blues in Dunedin.

Halfback Aaron Smith has recovered from an ankle injury and has been named on the bench, while loose forward Luke Whitelock also returns, via the reserves, after missing last week's loss to the Crusaders with a calf injury.

Smith was scheduled to be out for 4-6 weeks, but has missed just two games during his speedy recovery.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger is pleased to have the experienced duo back, as they chase their win in nearly two months.

"Nuggy [Smith] and Luke have both worked incredibly hard to make themselves available, and their return this week provides the team with a bit of a boost," said Mauger.

 "We are aware of the challenges the Blues will bring on Saturday. All the NZ conference games bring a high degree of intensity."

In other changes, Jackson Hemopo returns at lock, while Sio Tomkinson comes in at centre, with Rob Thompson not available for family reasons.

The Blues beat the Highlanders 33-26 earlier this season, but this match has the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy at stake, which the Highlanders have held since 2012.

Highlanders: 1-Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2-Liam Coltman, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-Jackson Hemopo, 5-Tom Franklin, 6-Shannon Frizell, 7-James Lentjes, 8-Elliot Dixon, 9-Kayne Hammington, 10-Josh Ioane, 11-Tevita Li, 12-Teihorangi Walden, 13-Patelesio Tomkinson, 14-Matt Faddes, 15-Ben Smith (cc)

Reserves: 16-Ash Dixon, 17-Ayden Johnstone, 18-Siate Tokolahi, 19-Josh Dickson, 20-Luke Whitelock (cc), 21-Aaron Smith, 22-Bryn Gatland, 23-Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

Newshub

Join us at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Highlanders v Blues Super Rugby clash.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz