Smith focused on Super Rugby play-offs

Jul 20, 2017 - 9:01 PM Highlanders captain Ben Smith says his focus is fixed firmly on the Super Rugby play-offs, with an upcoming sabbatical well down his list of priorities.

Smith is concentrating solely on the Highlanders' quarter-final clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, his first game since the first Test against the Lions.

The 31-year-old Highlanders fullback wouldn't comment on reports he is exercising a clause in his contract with New Zealand Rugby to sit out eight late-2017 Tests.

"I'm looking at this Saturday, and anything after that, I'll talk about that later," he told media on Thursday.

Instead, Smith is keen to enjoy his return to rugby after leaving the field with his third suspected concussion of the year against the Lions in Auckland late last month.

Smith said it was a huge relief when he discovered the problem was not concussion-related, but actually an inner ear infection.

But he said his vertigo, dizziness and issues with balance needed to be addressed.

"I knew I was probably a bit of a liability to a team if that struck in the middle of the game again," he said.

"That's sorted now so I'm looking forward to this week's challenge. I can't wait to get out there and play some footy."

Smith's return means the Highlanders are at near full strength for the third Super Rugby southern derby of the season.

Coach Tony Brown has opted for Richard Buckman on the left wing ahead of Tevita Li, while Rob Thompson's form at second five-eighth means he retains his spot alongside centre Malakai Fekitoa.

Brown has also gone for a six-forward, two-back split on the bench, pivot Marty Banks and halfback Kayne Hammington the only backs named with loose forwards Elliott Dixon and Gareth Evans both included.

"We just felt as though we needed that extra firepower up front, especially coming into the back end of the game," Brown said.

"We just felt having that extra loose forward could give us a bit of an edge."

The southerners are bracing for a bruised Crusaders side, who ended the round robin phase with a 22-31 loss to the Hurricanes - their only defeat of the season.

The Crusaders have the upper hand with two victories in the two derbies this season, although both were by just three points.

Source: AAP

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