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Highlanders star Aaron Smith missing from starting side to face Chiefs in Hamilton

By Alex McLeod

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All Blacks star Aaron Smith has been dropped from the Highlanders side to face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.

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Smith, who announced a two-year contract extension with New Zealand Rugby yesterday, will instead start from the bench, with exciting young prospect Folau Fakatava earning his first start in the No. 9 jersey this year.

It comes after indications from both Smith and Highlanders head coach Tony Brown that the 97-test All Blacks veteran will receive less game time this year in a bid to both preserve Smith for the 2023 World Cup and to satisfy Fakatava’s vast potential.

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After two seasons of minimal game time in Super Rugby, Fakatava received 24 minutes off the bench against the Crusaders last Friday and was influential upon his induction into the game, working well in tandem with replacement first-five Josh Ioane.

Fakatava and Ioane will pair up with each other as starters in the halves at FMG Stadium Waikato this weekend as two of the only changes made to the side from last week’s season-opening 26-13 defeat.

The only other alteration to the starting side comes at fullback, with last week’s first-five Mitch Hunt moved into the No. 15 jersey in place of Solomon Alaimalo, who takes Ioane’s place on the bench.

The remainder of the backline is unchanged, as is the forward pack, while former All Blacks lock Bryn Evans has been replaced on the bench by promising Bay of Plenty second rower Manaaki Selby-Rickit.

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The Chiefs team to face the Highlanders will be named at 4:30pm on Wednesday [NZT]. Kick-off for the match – which will be held in front of no crowd amid alert level two restrictions – is scheduled for 7:05pm on Friday [NZT].

Highlanders team to face the Chiefs in Hamilton

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
2. Ash Dixon (co-c)
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Josh Dickson
5. Jack Regan
6. Shannon Frizell
7. Billy Harmon
8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
9. Folau Fakatava
10. Josh Ioane
11. Jona Nareki
12. Patelesio Tomkinson
13. Ngatungane Punivai
14. Connor Garden-Bachop
15. Mitch Hunt

Reserves:

16. Liam Coltman
17. Josh Hohneck
18. Jeff Thwaites
19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
20. Liam Squire
21. Aaron Smith (co-c)
22. Solomon Alaimalo
23. Hugh Renton

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Highlanders star Aaron Smith missing from starting side to face Chiefs in Hamilton

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