Aaron Smith has the Crusaders and their drop goals in his sights

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith is refreshed after sitting out last week's game against the Reds.
DIANNE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith is refreshed after sitting out last week's game against the Reds.

Aaron Smith swears he got a piece of the last-gasp drop goal which buried the Highlanders the last time they played the Crusaders. 

The halfback bolted out of the line in a desperate bid to charge down Mitch Hunt's spectacular 43m winner at Christchurch's AMI Stadium, but could only swing around and watch it drop over the crossbar.

As much as the heart-breaker was a kick in the guts at the time, Smith's using it - and the second half capitulation against the Crusaders in round two -  as a valuable reminder ahead of Saturday night's quarterfinal between the teams in Christchurch. 

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith, left, and Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty chat after the Crusaders' 25-22 win at AMI ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith, left, and Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty chat after the Crusaders' 25-22 win at AMI Stadium last month.

"You can't win a game in 57 minutes and the same thing in Christchurch, we had a good lead against them for 70 minutes and then we had a really average finish to both games," Smith said regarding the last-ditch 30-27 and 25-22 defeats.

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"They're a good side and good teams like that don't ever give up and we've seen that."

The Crusaders swamp Mitch Hunt after his game-winning drop goal against the Highlanders last month.
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The Crusaders swamp Mitch Hunt after his game-winning drop goal against the Highlanders last month.

Saturday's match marks the first time the teams have met in the playoffs in 15 years, but will be the fifth game (including two 'friendlies') between them since February.

The Highlanders have only won 11 of the 31 games between the South Island franchises and Smith conceded they would need to play a whale of a game if they are to advance to the semifinals.

"The quality players in their side and that All Black forward pack, there is just so much experience there. We're going to have to be at our best and more to beat them this weekend," he said. 

Aaron Smith started all three tests against the British and Irish Lions.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX MEDIA

Aaron Smith started all three tests against the British and Irish Lions.

Never seemingly short of energy, Smith sat out last week's regular season finale against the Reds in Dunedin to refresh ahead of the playoffs. 

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He started all three tests against the British and Irish Lions and admitted he might have been mentally "over-cooked" without a breather. 

"It probably took a couple of weeks to get all the All Blacks' play calls right and then switching them all back to the Highlanders," Smith said.

"It takes a little bit of time and it's just been good to get that week to get back into the Highlanders mindset."

Smith used the break to get away form rugby for a few days, before cheering on the Hurricanes and Lions last weekend to ensure the Highlanders would play the Crusaders and avoid a quarterfinal against the Lions in Johannesburg. 

"Just hoping the Lions could get the job done [against the Sharks] to keep us in New Zealand for another week was brilliant," Smith said.

"I set my alarm for 5am for when the game would finish and ran out to the lounge and turned the TV on, 27-10 and I was like 'boom'."

In addition to getting Smith back from a rest, co-captain and fullback Ben Smith is also set to return for the sudden-death quarterfinal. 

He hasn't played since the first test against the British and Irish Lions last month, but was a full participant at the team's training session in Dunedin on Tuesday. 

It's been an injury-riddled year for the 31-year-old, who was thought to have suffered his third concussion this year in the first test against the Lions, only to later be diagnosed with an inner-ear problem. 

Naming both Smiths in the starting side would be a huge boost for coach Tony Brown, particularly if the game goes down to the wire like Aaron Smith predicts.  

"That's the exciting thing, especially when you know each other that well and you play each other enough," he said.

"I believe it takes a bit of magic and a bit of luck in games like this. It's always very close but you need to take your chances if you get them, and you also need a bit of luck. Whether that's a ref's call or a TMO decision or a charge down." 

Angus Gardner will referee the match, while Ben O'Keeffe and Mike Fraser will assist him. Glenn Newman has been appointed TMO. 

 - Stuff

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