Aaron Smith returns to a near-full strength Highlanders team wary of the Waratahs’ state of mind when they meet in Sydney on Saturday.

All Blacks halfback Smith sat out last week’s impressive 39-27 home win over the Lions as the Highlanders improved their record to 7-3.

The brilliant Test No.9 links again with Lima Sopoaga on Saturday in a classy halves pairing.

Speculation that in-form All Blacks fullback Ben Smith would be rested this week proved unfounded.

The Highlanders co-captain has started every match this year, having yet to sit out either of the two full weeks required by All Blacks players under their welfare agreement.

Coach Aaron Mauger confirmed Ben Smith will definitely be rested from next week’s match against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

Mauger’s focus is on a Waratahs side who he says will be stinging after blowing a 29-point advantage in losing 31-29 to the competition-leading Crusaders.

“They should have won that one so they would have learned a lot,” Mauger said.

“To lead by that much against the Crusaders just shows what they can be when they’re on.”

Along with Aaron Smith’s recall, there are three other starting changes.

Sio Tomkinson is at inside centre in place of Tei Walden (concussion) while flanker Dillon Hunt and lock Jackson Hemopo are rotated back into the pack in place of James Lentjes and Alex Ainley.

Winger Tevita Li has overcome a foot injury and is on the bench.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-capt), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Tevita Nabura, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Ash Dixon (co-capt), Daniel Lienart-Brown. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Tevita Li.


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