It's surely every coach's dream to head into a sudden-death playoff with close to their team's full roster available for selection.

It can create some headaches, but as Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger can attest, it's a good problem to have.

Welcoming back a host of key players for Saturday's quarter-final in Sydney against the Waratahs, Mauger had to make a few tough calls.

There was no room in the squad for impressive loose forward Dillon Hunt, with James Lentjes winning the No 7 jersey for the match.


"We can only select 23," Mauger said about the making the decision to omit Hunt. "It's been a hotly contested position the openside flanker position over the last six to eight weeks since Jimmy's come back from injury. I just feel that what he's going to bring to the game in terms of energy and how we want to play the game is best suited for this weekend."

The last time the Highlanders met the Waratahs, winger Tevita Nabura was sent off early for kicking counterpart Cameron Clark in the face. The Highlanders went on to suffer a heavy defeat.

Like many Super Rugby coaches preparing for the quarter-finals this weekend, Mauger had a fair idea of what the squad would look like early in the week.

Ben Smith returns at fullback, Aaron Smith at halfback, Rob Thompson at No 12 and Luke Whitelock at the back of the scrum after having last round off to rest. While the side's form has been a mixed bag of late, Mauger said now they were in the playoffs, none of that mattered, and backed his side to do the job.

"The most important thing is what's ahead of us...I'm sure we'll be okay with 15 men on the field this time 'round."

Ben Smith echoed his coach's approach to the match. After having a week off to get his body right, the co-captain was excited to get back on the pitch for what he expected to be an intense match.

"When you're not playing it gives you a chance to get your body right and it gives you a good chance to work with the trainers and that kind of thing and just get in the right frame of mind going into this week," Smith said.

"Just the excitement of getting over there is a big one for us. We want to go over there and really execute our game.


"We want to push forward in this competition but we can't do that if we don't give ourselves the best chance leading into Saturday."

Highlanders: Ben Smith (cc), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon (cc), Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Matt Faddes.