Smith benched while Sopoaga returns for Highlanders

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith has been benched for their Super Rugby match against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday night.

Smith has started every game for the Highlanders this season but Kane Hammington will pull on the number nine jersey to help manage the All Black halfback's workload in the lead up to the British and Irish Lions Series next month.

First five Lima Sopoaga will play his first match in more than two months after recovering from a hamstring injury.

The 26-year-old will start from the bench.

Returning to the starting line up are All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman and winger Tevita Li, who replaces the suspended Waisake Naholo.

Highlanders lock Tom Franklin will play his 50th Super Rugby game on Saturday after making his debut in 2014.

The Highlanders are seventh on the overall Super Rugby standings, two points behind last year's champions the Hurricanes and five points clear of the Blues.

The Force meanwhile sit in second to last on the Australian conference but are just six points behind the first placed Brumbies.

The Highlanders team to play the Western Force in Perth on Saturday:

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown

2. Liam Coltman

3. Siate Tokolahi

4. Alex Ainley

5. Tom Franklin

6. Gareth Evans

7. Dillon Hunt

8. Elliot Dixon (cc)

9. Kayne Hammington

10. Marty Banks

11. Tevita Li

12. Richard Buckman

13. Malakai Fekitoa

14. Patrick Osborne

15. Matt Faddes


16. Ash Dixon (cc)

17. Aki Seiuli

18. Guy Millar

19. Joe Wheeler

20. Jackson Hemopo

21. Aaron Smith

22. Lima Sopoaga

23. Rob Thompson