All Black full-back Ben Smith has been ruled out of the Highlanders' crucial clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
All Black full-back Ben Smith has been ruled out of the Highlanders' crucial Super Rugby clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Smith spent three days in hospital earlier this week after suffering a leg infection which he carried into the Highlanders' lost to the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend.
Coach Jamie Joseph confirmed Trent Renata would start in Smith's place at full-back in a team that features four changes to the side that started against the Waratahs in Sydney last week.
It will be the first match the co-captain has missed in past 39 games for the franchise, since April 2012.
Joseph says Smith is still on antibiotics from the graze that got infected.
“Not the best. He's coming right though, but we've got to have certainty in our team selection and so we've ruled him out,” said the coach.
“I'm sure on Saturday the leg will feel better, but that's not a great preparation to go from hospital bed to a big game against the Crusaders.
“You know, if we're going to be any good in the competition in the later stages of the competition we've got to be able to do something without Ben Smith for once.”
The front row has two changes with Liam Coltman rejoining the starting XV as hooker and Chris King coming back onto the tighthead side of the scrum.
Hayden Parker will start in the playmaker position of fly-half while Gareth Evans rounds out the bench as loosie cover.
Prop Ma'afu Fia is undergoing tests and will not play after suffering a seizure in training last week.
Only a series of unlikely results can deny the Highlanders a playoff spot, but they need to score a bonus-point win over the Crusaders to have any hope of stealing second spot and a home semi-final.
Highlanders: 15 Trent Renata, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 JP Koen, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Date: Saturday, July
Venue: AMI Stadium (Addington, Christchurch)
Kick-off: 19.35 local (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert