In positive news for fans of the Highlanders Super Rugby side, fullback and co-captain Ben Smith made his return from sabbatical, in a pre-season match. Played in Queenstown, the match saw the Highlanders defeat the Waratahs 55-29, to entertain fans and please new head coach Aaron Mauger.
The player had taken the final tests of 2018 off, after a number of injuries and concussion issues. It allowed him to be on-hand for the birth of his second child, and to enjoy time away from the sport.
But one point was quickly found when ‘Bender’ returned to action. He was fearless as normal–pounding into contact, not worrying about a knock to his teeth, and being involved for the majority of the match. It impressed his new Highlanders coach, who is loving his time in charge of a Super Rugby franchise.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) February 2, 2018
Ben Smith returns for Highlanders Pre-Season
Beside needing to make a booking with the Dentist, Ben Smith came through the competition with confidence he is on track for the opening weekend of his 10th Super Rugby season.
Not known for his public addresses, only his team mates will be able to tell you of the Otago stalwarts loyalty. Not required to be involved until February [due to All Blacks collective agreement stipulations] he has enjoyed the pre-season work, along with the rest of the team.
Known for his work ethic, it is a trait that will bring benefits in both fitness, and team culture. Aaron Mauger told Fairfax Media “He’s managed a couple of [personal bests] in a couple of tests, so hopefully we have him in a great space and ready to roll for the season ahead.
“He can get out there and feel confident with his body and have another big year.”
“That’s his commitment for the team and it’s just a good reflection of the character he is and how much he loves this side. That’s why he leads this team so well.”
Ben Smith will now be joined by his All Blacks fellow Highlanders squad members, who can all focus squarely on being ready for the Super Rugby Week Two clash on February 23, against the Blues at Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
Highlanders now head to Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
After the 55-29 win over the Waratahs, the core-team will head for the sunshine of the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens.
— Brisbane Global Tens (@BrisbaneTens) February 1, 2018
This will include high-flying players like Matt Faddes and Richard Buckman, as well as many of the forwards. The 10s format requires more forwards on the field, so men like co-captain Ash Dixon and Greg Pleasants-Tate will get a run, along with All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Luke Whitelock.
The 10s format is as much excitement and razzle-dazzle, but with a similarity to the XV’s game. It will see the Highlanders in Pool B, where they face the ‘Tahs yet again, Top 14 side Pau and defending champions the Chiefs.
Within the regular squad, ever side can choose a Wildcard Player. The Blues had chosen Carlos Spencer, so in a show of nostalgia, the Highlanders have called back center Pita Alatini. The midfielder represented the ‘Landers 48 times, and will be a unknown factor at the tournament.
The weekend kicks off on Friday February 9, from 2pm at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
The full squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens:
Forwards: Aki Sieuli, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tyrel Lomax, Alex Ainley, Paripari Parkinson, Elliot Dixon, Dan Pryor, Shannon Frizell, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Kalolo Tuiloma, Guy Millar, Ash Dixon, Josh Dickson
Backs: Kayne Hammington, Josh Renton, Josh Ioane, Fletcher Smith , Tevita Nabura,Teihorangi Walden, Ryan Tongia, Josh McKay, Richard Buckman, Terrance Hepetema. Wildcard player – Pita Alatini
After the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens, the Highlanders have one more pre-season fixture. On Thursday February 15, they face the Crusaders for the Farmlands Cup, before they can ramp-up their training for the season opening match the following Friday.
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