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Ben Smith back to boost Highlanders

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Super Rugby qualifying finals

The Brumbies will certainly be out for revenge when they take on the Chiefs in a replay of last year's grand final.

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The return of co-captain Ben Smith from illness has boosted the Highlanders ahead of their Super Rugby play-off match against the Sharks in Durban.

The All Blacks fullback was hospitalised for three days with an infection, thought to have come from a superficial graze on his leg following the Highlanders' 44-16 loss to the Waratahs two weeks ago.

He missed the final regular season clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch, won 34-8 by the home team.

Hard to stop: Highlanders custodian Ben Smith.

Hard to stop: Highlanders custodian Ben Smith. Photo: Getty Images

Coach Jamie Joseph has made two changes to the forward pack as he looks to improve the Highlanders' set piece against the South African conference leaders.

Ged Robinson starts at hooker and Jarrad Hoeata at lock, meaning Tom Franklin moves to the bench.

In the backline, Lima Sopoaga has been recalled to the playmaker position at five-eighth and will partner Phil Burleigh at No.12, with Trent Renata moving back to the reserves.

Joseph says his team will need to hold their own in the possession battle against opponents he expects will kick a lot and attack through their powerful rolling mauls and scrum.

The Highlanders' scrum and lineout struggled in heavy losses to the Waratahs and Crusaders this month leading into their first play-off appearance for 12 years.

"You have to be at your absolute best when you play against the best teams in this competition and I'm not sure we've done that in the past two weeks," Joseph said.

Sunday's game (AEST) will be the Highlanders' second visit to Durban this season, after they produced a stellar performance in winning their round 11 clash 34-18.

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris King, Ged Robinson, Kane Hames. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, JP Koen, Josh Bekhuis, Tom Franklin, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Gareth Evans.

AAP

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