Highlanders bench Aaron Smith for Blues clash
The impact of mid-season All Blacks camps is being felt by the Highlanders, who had seven players attend a camp in Christchurch on Monday. Star halfback Aaron Smith has been benched in favour of Kayne Hammington, suggesting that the disruptions have played a part in selections.
“We just feel [Kayne] is the right man for the job this week,” head coach Aaron Mauger said. “It’s also a short week for us, and we had seven guys away at an All Black camp on Monday, so they have only had one training with the team this week.”
“Kayne has done a great job leading the team for the first few days this week, and we’ve got the captain’s run tomorrow before we head up to Auckland. I’m sure he’ll be ready to fire come Friday night.
It will be the first time this season Aaron Smith doesn’t start for the Highlanders, while other returning All Blacks Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock and Dillon Hunt will retain their starting positions.
Mauger is confident that starting Hammington will still give the Highlanders what they need from the halfback position.
“He’s not a big man but he’s really physical. He competes for everything, which is what we really love about him.
“We just love the space that he lives in each game, he’s in every moment and he’s very competitive. That’s what we want from our nines.
“On the whole, we’re pretty happy with where the squad is at and we’ve got plenty of competition for places, which is a good place to be.
The Highlanders will be looking to continue the Blues misery against fellow New Zealand sides, who have won just one of the last 25 clashes. The sides met in their season openers, where the Highlanders outlasted the Blues in a classic derby in Dunedin.
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