Ben Smith

Smith and Ioane dumped as All Blacks attempt Bledisloe rescue

In a potential changing of the guard five weeks out from the Rugby World Cup, coach Steve Hansen has introduced young flyers Sevu Reece and George Bridge to the wing for Saturday's winner-takes-all Test.

Nepo Laulala claims Franks' tighthead berth in one of five starting changes from the team humbled 47-26 by the Wallabies in Perth.

Two changes were forced.

Veteran Sonny Bill Williams returns to the midfield following injury to Jack Goodhue, pushing Anton Lienert-Brown to centre, while fourth-choice lock Patrick Tuipulotu replaces the suspended Scott Barrett.

Ben Smith returns for Highlanders

Smith will start at fullback after recovering from a hamstring strain which has kept him out for seven weeks.

He was expected to return last week against the Waratahs, but the Highlanders decided to give him extra time to recover.

The co-captain is one of just three changes to the Highlanders lineup with Sio Tomkinson replacing Tevita Li on the left wing.

Ben Smith may have played last game for Highlanders

Smith suffered the injury in the Highlanders draw against the Chiefs in Dunedin at the weekend.

His injury raises concern in the All Black camp too with utility back Damian McKenzie already ruled out of the World Cup with a serious knee injury.

Highlanders assistant coach Glen Delaney says they're getting used to operating without key players.

"We've had guys dropping out throughout the year (through injury). We lost Aaron Smith for a bit, we had Liam (Squire) out for a bit and Waisake (Naholo's been out for a bit," said Delaney.

Super Rugby: Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith to miss Sunwolves clash

Smith has remained in New Zealand while the rest of the squad on Sunday departed Dunedin. It will mark his second - and final - All Blacks enforced rest week. 

Leaving out the 32-year-old All Black against the Sunwolves means he will be able to re-charge at home ahead of the Highlanders' home clash with the Chiefs Saturday week. 

However, the Sunwolves aren't the easy beats of previous years and the Highlanders can expect a heck of a challenge from the Tony Brown coached side. 

All Blacks back Ben Smith confirms French fling

The 32-year-old Smith, who has played 76 Tests for the All Blacks and 144 games for the Highlanders, has signed a contract with French Top 14 club Pau and will leave New Zealand after what is expected to be his swansong, the 2019 World Cup in Japan, which starts next September.

"I'm excited about the opportunities that may present themselves in the future, but I also realise that my playing time with Otago, the Highlanders and the All Blacks now has an end point," Smith said.

Ben Smith moves to right wing

Smith, who has started at fullback all season, replaces Waisake Naholo in the number 14 jersey, with his fellow All Black being rested.

Smith is replaced at fullback by utility Fletcher Smith.

Tyrel Lomax will start at tighthead prop with regular tighthead, Siate Tokolahi, having been ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury.

Aaron Smith returns to the starting lineup.

Liam Coltman replaces Ash Dixon at hooker and Elliott Dixon starts on the blindside.

Whitelock may get call-up

Veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock might be in line for a lift in leadership now the vice-captaincy role is vacant after Ben Smith started his sabbatical.

Whitelock, 28, who could play his 91st test if selected for Saturday night's test against Argentina in New Plymouth, impressed most observers with the way he handled the captaincy of the Crusaders through their Super Rugby triumph this season and appears the natural back-up to Kieran Read.     

Ben Smith: Bledisloe 'massive'

The fact Ben Smith still wants to play test rugby when his sabbatical expires might have had something to do with his reluctance to comment on Steve Hansen's acting career.

All Blacks coach Hansen is set to star in an advertisement for biscuits, where he appears dressed in leathers and riding a two-wheeled machine, evoking some mirth among his players.

Ben Smith's future undecided

Smith hasn't played since leaving the field during the first test between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions last month.

The 31-year-old was thought to have suffered a third concussion this year, only for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to reveal on Thursday it wasn't concussion, but rather an inner-ear problem hindering the Otago product.

Smith won't feature in the series deciding test against the Lions on Saturday night, but the All Blacks vice-captain is in Auckland helping the team prepare for the fixture. 

Concussion expert concerned for Ben Smith

Smith suffered his third concussion since February - and sixth in the past five years -  during the All Blacks' 30-15 win against the British and Irish Lions in Auckland on Saturday night. 

Fulcher, an Auckland-based sport and exercise physician for Axis Sports Medicine Specialists, said the frequency of Smith's injuries were "concerning", and he would discuss retirement or a break from the game if he were to sit down with the 31-year-old.