Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has been forced to make five changes to the side that will play the Melbourne Rebels in Invercargill on Friday night but two are them are because of All Blacks returning from injury.
The Highlanders have been hit hard through injuries with Colin Slade the most serious after breaking his leg in last weekend's 33-26 defeat to the Brumbies. He has remained in hospital in Canberra and is out for up to 12 months.
Also joining him on the sidelines are loose forward John Hardie, whose broken toe has ruled him out of the season, hooker Andrew Hore, who has been in brilliant form but is out for a week with a calf strain, and lock Nick Crosswell (knee). These come on top of the injuries to Lima Sopoaga (fractured scapula), Kenny Lynn (fractured neck), Siale Piutau (broken ankle) and wing Telusa Veainu (concussion).
Offsetting that to some degree are the returns of All Blacks Adam Thomson and Jarrad Hoeata.
Thomson missed the Brumbies game with a neck complaint and Hoeata will make his first appearance since tearing his pectoral muscle before Christmas.
Jason Rutledge will make his first start in front of his home crowd in Invercargill in the absence of Hore and Chris Noakes will take over at first five-eighths from Slade. Aaron Smith retains the halfback's jersey ahead of Jimmy Cowan.
The Rebels have won of their four games so far this season.
Highlanders team to play the Rebels at Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill, on Friday (7.35pm): Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Tamati Ellison, Shaun Treeby, Hosea Gear, Chris Noakes, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, Adam Thomson, James Haskell, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh (c). Reserves: Brayden Mitchell, Ma'afu Fia, Culum Retallick, Doug Tietjens, Jimmy Cowan, Phil Burleigh, Buxton Popoali'i.