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Ben Smith to lead Highlanders from the front

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:02 06/02/2014
Ben Smith
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
STAR MAN: Ben Smith will co-captain the Highlanders this season.

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He's the Highlanders' best player, one of only two current All Blacks in the side, and he will co-captain a team most people expect to struggle this year.

No pressure then, Ben Smith.

"For me, I've got to get out there and play well because that's the best way to lead ... that's the best way to show the young guys how to go about their work," he said.

Smith and fellow All Black Aaron Smith have been eased back into the Highlanders pre-season.

They weren't part of the win over the Brumbies in Queenstown and won't play against the Crusaders in Motueka tomorrow night.

As well as giving them a decent break - Ben Smith went fishing for blue nose and bass up north and then headed to Central Otago during his holiday - it could also be a deliberate plan by the Highlanders to ensure they don't rely on their two internationals during games that don't count.

Smith was the form fullback in Super Rugby last year, the best winger in international rugby and then part of a middling experiment as a centre during the All Blacks end-of-season tour.

The question will be, can he replicate that form in 2014?

He would prefer to play fullback, but hasn't been told where he should be playing by the All Blacks.

Given he's yet to take the field this season, Smith isn't sure where the Highlanders will need him most, either.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said the team's philosophy was based around no-one getting any special treatment.

"We've got a saying in our team that it's one to 37, and everyone's got to get an opportunity in our group to perform and stake their claim. We've got no superstars - other people might think the two All Blacks are - but not in our team," Joseph said.

"The key for those two All Blacks that we have got is that they prepare themselves properly, both physically and mentally, before they perform and that's why we aren't playing them at the moment."

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