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Highlanders welcome back Aaron Smith for Chiefs clash

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith is set to make his Super Rugby Pacific season debut on Friday as the Highlanders look to get their campaign back on track against the Chiefs.


After starting their season with emphatic losses against last year’s finalists the Blues and Crusaders, the Highlanders have made 11 changes to their starting XV for round three.

Among the changes, champion scrum-half Aaron Smith has been named to start in the No. 9 jersey after missing the opening two rounds of the season.

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Fellow New Zealand internationals Ethan de Groot and Shannon Frizell have also been named in the starting side to take on the ladder-leading Chiefs in Hamilton.

The Highlanders had made nine changes to their starting side to take on the Crusaders in Super Round, and have been forced to make plenty more ahead of their next clash.

An injury crisis continues to hamper the squad, with Jonah Lowe and Sam Gilbert joining the already extensive list after last weekend’s match in Melbourne.

Only four players have retained their spots in the starting XV, including prop Jermaine Ainsley and Pari-Pari Parkinson.


Flanker James Lentjes will captain the side at FMG Stadium as Billy Harmon observes his All Blacks break.

As for the backline, flyhalf Mitch Hunt will partner Aaron Smith in the halves after returning to the starting XV. Hunt had been relegated to the bench for the Highlanders’ Super Round clash.


Following their standout displays against the Crusaders, midfielders Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Josh Timu are the only backs to have held their spots in the side.


Former England international Freddie Burns will move from flyhalf to fullback, having been named to start in the No. 15 jumper.

After losing to the Crusaders 52-15 on Saturday, captain Billy Harmon told reporters that the team wouldn’t be getting “too disheartened” about the result.

“It’s only round two we’re not going to get too disheartened,” Harmon said.

“We just still want to keep growing, keep (getting) better. The funny thing is I felt like we did get better in our attack and our D.

“Obviously with that scoreline we weren’t quite accurate and a team like the Crusaders, they can pounce on any opportunity and turn that into points.”

The highly anticipated New Zealand blockbuster will kick-off round three at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium at 7:05pm NZT on Friday.


Highlanders team to take on the Chiefs

  1. Ethan de Groot
  2. Rhys Marshall
  3. Jermaine Ainsley
  4. Pari-Pari Parkinson
  5. Josh Dickson
  6. Shannon Frizell
  7. James Lentjes (c)
  8. Hugh Renton
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Mitch Hunt
  11. Mosese Dawai
  12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
  13. Josh Timu
  14. Martin Bogado
  15. Freddie Burns



  1. Leni Apisai
  2. Ayden Johnstone
  3. Saula Mau
  4. Fabian Holland
  5. Sean Withy
  6. Kemara Hauiti-Parapara
  7. Fetuli Paea
  8. Connor Garden-Bachop


Not available due to injury: Marty Banks (groin), Sam Gilbert (shoulder), Scott Gregory (knee), Vili Koroi (knee), Jonah Lowe (concussion), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (ribs), Jona Nareki (foot), Jeff Thwaites (back), Will Tucker (groin)


– Press release/Highlanders


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