Super Rugby Pacific: All Blacks legend set to make final home appearance for the Highlanders

David Skippers
Aaron Smith Highlanders SRP 2022 - PA.jpg

Legendary All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith will play his final home fixture for the Highlanders when they host the Reds in their Super Rugby Pacific clash in Dunedin on Friday.

Smith is at scrum-half alongside former England international Freddie Burns as the starting half-backs as Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody makes four changes, including a positional switch, to his starting line-up after last weekend’s home victory over the Melbourne Rebels.

Mitch Hunt starts at full-back

In the backline, Mitch Hunt replaces Connor Garden-Bachop at full-back while Thomas Umaga-Jensen returns at outside centre where he takes over from Fetuli Paea.

Jonah Lowe and Jona Nareki continue on the wing while Umaga-Jensen is joined in midfield by Sam Gilbert, who starts at inside centre.

Meanwhile, Shannon Frizell shifts back to the blindside flank from lock and comes in on the side of the scrum for Sean Withy, while Pari Pari Parkinson is back in the engine room where he combines with Max Hicks.

Frizell is joined in the back-row by Hugh Renton (number eight) and captain Billy Harmon (openside flanker), while up front Andrew Makalio packs down at hooker alongside Jermaine Ainsley and Ethan de Groot, who are the starting props.

Friday’s encounter will have a very special feel to it as the Highlanders say goodbye to their most capped player ever, Smith.

The 34-year-old made his Super Rugby debut for the Dunedin-based outfit in 2011 and will make his 184th appearance for them in the match against the Reds.

He played a leading role when the Highlanders won the Super Rugby title in 2015 and has been one of the world’s best scrum-halves over the past decade with his competitiveness, accurate passing and brilliant attacking skills all hallmarks of his game.

Must-win game for the Highlanders

Friday’s clash is a must-win encounter for the Highlanders as they are currently in ninth place in the standings and a win could see them move up to the play-off positions.

Highlanders: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon (c), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Max Hicks, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 20 Sean Withy, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Connor Garden-Bachop, 23 Scott Gregory

Date: Friday, May 26
Venue: Forsyth Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Mabey (New Zealand), Marcus Playle (New Zealand)

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