It will be Smith’s first Super Rugby start since succumbing to an ankle injury against the Blues in Auckland last month, while it will be Whitelock’s first run-on appearance since damaging his calf against the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium three weeks ago.
Their returns to the starting side will offset the dropping of in-form All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell, who has been relegated to the bench in place of Whitelock for the first time since the Highlanders’ season-opening win against the Chiefs in February.
Joining him on the pine is one-test openside flanker Dillon Hunt, who is in line to make his first Super Rugby appearance in five weeks.
Hunt appears to have fallen out of favour with Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger in recent weeks, who has preferred James Lentjes in the No. 7 jersey, but this weekend’s clash will provide Hunt with an opportunity to state his case for a starting role as the backend of the season nears.
Experienced midfielder Rob Thompson also returns to the starting side to form a reliable midfield combination with Tei Walden, which pushes young Sio Tomkinson out to the wing, as Matt Faddes shifts to fullback in place of the rested Ben Smith.
The match kicks off at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium at 7pm local time.
Highlanders: 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Jackson Hemopo, 5. Tom Franklin, 6. Luke Whitelock (c), 7. James Lentjes, 8. Elliot Dixon, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Tevita Li, 12. Tei Walden, 13. Rob Thompson, 14. Sio Tomkinson, 15. Matt Faddes
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