Highlander Ben Smith out for Crusaders clash
The Highlanders will try to get through to the playoffs without talismanic fullback Ben Smith after the All Black failed to recover from a leg infection ahead of Saturday's game against the Crusaders.
Smith picked up the infection the day before the heavy loss to the Waratahs on Sunday and spent three days in a Sydney hospital before returning to Dunedin this week.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said there was little choice but to leave Smith out of the team.
''He's had a bad infection and the leg was swollen to the size of one of my legs. He just needs to take a few days and get it right. If we are worthy enough to be in the playoffs, he'll be itching to go.
''The last thing we want is to make it through and we haven't got our captain with us. It's a sensible decision and we are happy with that.''
Smith had played every minute of every game before Sunday's game against the Waratahs. Co-captain Nasi Manu will lead the Highlanders in Smith's absence.
With Kurt Baker also ruled out with a season-ending hamstring injury, the No 15 jersey will be handed to Trent Renata.
''Trent has got a different set of skills. He's not renowned for his running, but he's probably, in some cases, a better kicker of the ball,'' Joseph said.
''He's played a lot of rugby, so tactically he knows how to play and every time he's played for the Highlanders he's played really well.''
There is concern in the Highlanders camp around prop Ma'afu Fia, who went down during a training session last Thursday with an unexplained seizure.
Joseph said the training ground incident had been ''really scary'' and Fia was now waiting for medical tests to uncover what had happened. Fia has continued to be involved in all non-contact trainings, but has been replaced in the wider squad by former Chiefs prop Solomona Sakalia.
Southland prop JP Koen made his Super Rugby debut against the Waratahs and has been included on the bench for the Crusaders game.
CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.
HIGHLANDERS: Trent Renata, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (captain), Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves: Ged Robinson, Matias Diaz, JP Koen, Josh Bekhuis, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.