Smith back for Highlanders
Sydney - Ben Smith will make a welcome return to the Highlanders this week after sitting out their surprise Super Rugby loss to the Reds due to concussion.
The 29-year-old All Blacks fullback suffered the concussion during his side's 32-20 victory over Force on April 1 and missed the defeat to the Reds in Brisbane eight days later.
The Highlanders, who had a bye last week, said on Wednesday Smith had passed concussion tests and named him in the team at fullback to face South Africa's Sharks in Dunedin on Friday.
Smith's return to the number 15 jersey means Matt Faddes returns to the right wing, while Jack Wilson moves to the left and Patrick Osborne drops to the bench.
Loose forward Elliott Dixon, whose performances this season have done his All Blacks chances no harm, also returns following a head cut received against the Force.
The Highlanders had won five successive games before being tripped up by the Reds, who had not registered a victory this season until meeting the 2015 champions.
The Highlanders are fourth in the New Zealand conference on 23 points and occupy the fifth and final playoffs spot in the Australasian Group.
The Sharks are fourth in the South African group on 17 points and in danger of losing touch with the third-placed Bulls (23), who occupy the wildcard spot in the eight-team group.
15. Ben Smith (captain), 14. Matt Faddes, 13. Malakai
Fekitoa, 12. Jason Emery, 11. Jack Wilson, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 9. Aaron Smith, 8.
Liam Squire, 7. Shane Christie, 6. Elliot Dixon, 5. Joe Wheeler, 4. Tom
Franklin, 3. Josh Hohneck, 2. Ash Dixon, 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
Substitutes: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Craig Millar, 18. Ross
Geldenhuys, 19. Alex Ainley, 20. Dan Pryor, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Hayden
Parker, 23. Patrick Osborne
15. Willie le Roux, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. JP Pietersen, 12.
Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Garth April, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8.
Philip van der Walt, 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Stephan Lewies,
4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai
Substitutes: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. Thomas du Toit ,
18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Jean Deysel, 21. Michael
Claassens, 22. Joe Pietersen, 23. S’bura Sithole