Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s crucial clash with the Chiefs in Dunedin.
In the back-line there is one change, with Matt Faddes coming in at outside centre and Malakai Fekitoa shifting in a position to wear the number 12 jersey.
This means that Rob Thompson, who was the starting inside centre in the champions’ most recent victories against the Jaguares, misses out on selection.
There’s no place in the matchday squad for Thompson as Joseph has opted for a six forward-two back split on his replacements bench.
The other changes to the run-on side is in the pack where Alex Ainley and Daniel Lienert-Brown replace Joe Wheeler and Josh Hohneck at lock and loosehead prop respectively.
Like Thompson, there’s no place on the bench for Wheeler while Liam Coltman returns from a toe injury as the back-up hooker.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s crucial clash with the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Both changes are in the pack where All Blacks Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick make a welcome return to the men from Hamilton’s run-on side.
Messam comes in at number eight where he takes over from co-captain Sam Cane, who moves to the openside flank where he replaces Lachlan Boshier, while Retallick takes over from Taleni Seu at lock.
Tom Sanders will form the back row combination with Messam and Cane while Retallick re-establishes his second row partnership with Dominic Bird.
In the backs, the starting line-up who hammered the Reds 50-5 in Brisbane last Friday have earned their jerseys again this week.
All Blacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and co-captain Aaron Cruden will start at scrum-half and fly-half respectively. Explosive midfielders Anton Lienert-Brown and Seta Tamanivalu combine again, with James Lowe, Toni Pulu and Damian McKenzie forming a formidable back-three.
The outcome of this highly anticipated fixture will determine the New Zealand Conference seeding ahead of the 2016 Super Rugby quarter-final playoffs, with the top ranked New Zealand team securing the coveted home advantage.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Alex Ainley, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Te Aihe Toma, 23 Fletcher Smith
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Sam McNicol
Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Wratt (New Zealand)