Smith to bring up his ton against Rebels
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith will play his 100th Super Rugby game and 100th game for the Highlanders when they face the Rebels in Dunedin on Friday.
Smith, Highlander No.175, debuted in 2011 against the Bulls in Pretoria and has been a regular selection ever since.
Renowned as one of the best passing scrumhalves in the game he debuted for the All Blacks in 2012 and has been capped 62 times.
His efforts for both the All Blacks and Highlanders in 2014 saw him recognised with the Tom French Memorial Trophy for Maori Player of the Year.
He becomes the fifth player behind Anton Oliver (127), Jimmy Cowan (108), Chris King (106) and Ben Smith (123) to play 100 games for the Highlanders.
"Aaron has been the best No.9 in the world for some time now and is such an important part of our game," Highlanders coach Tony Brown said.
"It's fantastic that he gets to clock up a 100 games for the franchise, he joins a small group of amazing rugby players and he deserves his place in that company, he's earned his selection in every one of those 100 games through hard work and consistency of performance."
Smith will be presented with a pounamu mere - the New Zealand Rugby Union's gift for centurions - on Friday, following the conclusion of the game.
Smith will partner with Marty Banks in the halfbacks, as Fletcher Smith moves to the bench and Tevita Li returns to the wing to replace a well performed Sio Tomkinson.
The forwards have Aki Seiuli, Joe Wheeler and Gareth Evans moving from last week's bench to the starting team and in the reserves, Elliot Dixon and Daniel Lienert-Brown, get a break from the starting lineup this week. Tupou Sopoaga will make his debut appearance if required.
Players who are unavailable due to injury include Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon, Dan Pryor, Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo, Adrian Smith and James Lentjes.
Jason Emery and Hayden Parker are out for the season.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Tevita Li, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Tupou Sopoaga, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Date: Friday, March 31
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (17.35 AEDT; 06.35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson