The All Blacks rest protocol has struck again as the Highlanders lose two of their leading players this week — one who has started just one game for the national side in four seasons.
The Highlanders have sent over reinforcements for the match against the Jaguares, set to be played at noon on Sunday (NZ time) in Buenos Aires.
But they've also had to bring back five players — all who started in the loss against the Bulls last week.
The Highlanders have sent utility back Sio Tomkinson, lock Josh Dickson, props Ethan De Groot and Conan O'Donnell, and halfback Folau Fakatava to Argentina, while returning home are winger Jona Nareki, lock Jesse Parete, prop Ayden Johnstone, and All Blacks Aaron Smith and Liam Coltman.
Nareki injured his back and hip in the game against the Bulls, while Johnstone took a knock to the head. Parete has picked up some niggles, while Smith and Coltman have returned to New Zealand as part of the All Blacks rest agreement. All Blacks from last year have to miss two games of Super Rugby this season.
Smith's return means the side will field its third captain in six games this season, with Ash Dixon set to wear the skipper's armband against the Jaguares, who, like the Highlanders, flew from South Africa.
The system of giving All Blacks rests during the season has come in for plenty of criticism this season and it is not hard to see why.
A blanket rule across all All Blacks from 2019, no matter how many minutes they spent on the field, just leaves plenty of head scratching.
Though Smith has played plenty of games for the All Blacks in recent years, his fitness is without question, and if anything, he is trying too hard this season. More time on the paddock may help his game.
Since his 2016 All Blacks debut, Coltman has played just eight tests, including seven off the bench.
Whether he needs a break is questionable, especially with the lineout struggles the Highlanders have endured this year.
Coltman was the best player for the Highlanders last year but is yet to reach those heights this season. It is hard to see how a rest will help his form. Nathan Vella will come on to the bench as the reserve hooker. Fakatava will be in a contest with Kayne Hammington to start as Smith's replacement.