All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has made a rapid return to the Highlanders for their crucial Super Rugby derby against the Blues.

Smith was to be out for six weeks after injuring his ankle against in the Highlanders' last match with the Blues, but instead has returned after just two games, to be named on the bench for the game on Saturday night.

Fellow All Black Luke Whitelock has also returned from injury as the Highlanders aim to end a winless streak which stretches back to February.

Aaron Smith trains at the All Blacks Foundation Day. Photo / Photosport
Aaron Smith trains at the All Blacks Foundation Day. Photo / Photosport

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger praised the pair for their quick returns.


"[Smith] and Luke have both worked incredibly hard to make themselves available and their return this week provides the team with a bit of a boost,'' said Mauger.

"We are aware of the challenges the Blues will bring on Saturday, all the New Zealand conference games bring a high degree of intensity.''

A third All Black - forward Jackson Hemopo - will return at lock to partner Tom Franklin at Forsyth Barr Stadium, while Sio Tomkinson takes the place of Rob Thompson, who is unavailable for family reasons.

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Matt Faddes, Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Elliot Dixon, James Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Luke Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Bryn Gatland, Thomas Umaga-Jensen.