All Blacks full-back Ben Smith set for Highlanders return in Super Rugby quarter-finals
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 18/06/19 11:34am
All Blacks full-back Ben Smith could be rushed back into the Highlanders side for Friday's Super Rugby quarter-final away to the Crusaders on Sky Sports.
Smith, who will join French Top 14 side Pau after this year's World Cup, trained last week but was a late withdrawal ahead of their 49-12 demolition of the Waratahs in Ivercargill last Friday as the Highlanders took a safety-first approach with their co-captain's serious hamstring injury.
The 76-cap New Zealand international's leadership could be vital for the Highlanders' hopes of causing an upset against the Crusaders, who have never lost a home play-off in Super Rugby history.
"Bender's (Smith) better than he was last week and he was very close last week, so we're hoping he'll be available," Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said
Despite having taken just six wins from the regular season and only one from their past four games, the Highlanders managed to secure their play-off place with the victory over the Waratahs.
But it will take something special to topple Scott Robertson's Crusaders, who hammered the Highlanders 43-17 in Christchurch in their last meeting in April.
That match saw Smith score on what was his 150th appearance for the Highlanders and the trip to the nine-time champions holds no fear for the visitors.
"We're not feeling like (underdogs)," Hammett said. "Of course we respect them - they deserved their position, but we really want to express how we play and what we do.
"We know that they are a good team, but we also know that when we put things together we're a good team as well."
The winner of Friday's match will next meet either the Hurricanes or the Bulls.