The Highlanders will be able to call on two decent bench players, including All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith, against the Force in Perth tonight.

Smith gets a chance to take a breather and next to him on the pine will be back-up All Blacks first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga. He has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for the past two months and is expected to make his return from the bench.

It will be interesting to see what impact Sopoaga can make in his first game back since he left the field in the 16-12 win against the Blues in March.

Marty Banks has filled in during Sopoaga's absence and will start the match despite suffering a broken nose in the 17-10 win against the Bulls, while Kayne Hammington gets his first start in the No9 jersey.


Tevita Li gets an opportunity on the wing following Waisake Naholo's one-week suspension for a clumsy shoulder charge on Bulls centre Burger Odendaal.

The front row has been rotated. Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman and Siate Tokolahi start ahead of Ash Dixon and Aki Seiuli, while Guy Millar has joined the side as a replacement for hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate.

Midfielder Rob Thompson replaces Tei Walden on the bench.

Lock Tom Franklin will be hoping for a big game in his 50th appearance for the franchise. The 26-year-old made his debut in 2014 and has established himself as a regular starter with commanding lineout performances.

The former New Zealand under-20 representative and New Zealand Maori player has been with Otago since leaving school but has signed with Bay of Plenty for the Mitre 10 Cup this year.

The Highlanders will start as favourites having won their past seven consecutive games. The southern side is yet to lose to a non-New Zealand team this season but have struggled against the Force, losing six of the 10 games between the sides.

The record in Perth is two games apiece, though, and the Highlanders won on their most recent visit there.

Both teams have clocked up the kilometres recently. The Force were in Buenos Aires last week where they beat the Jaguares 16-6. The Highlanders beat the Bulls 17-10 in Pretoria. Fatigue could be a factor and having a strong bench is a bonus for the Highlanders as they look to extend their winning streak.

Highlanders team

Matt Faddes, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Bukman, Tevita Li, Marty Banks, Kayne Hammington, Elliot Dixon (co-caption), Dillon Hunt, Garth Evans, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiulu, Guy Millar, Joe Wheeler, Jackson Hemopo, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Rob Thompson.