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Ben Smith's return a boost for Highlanders

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Lynn McConnell     17 Mar 2017     Getty Images

With one win and two losses to date, Brown said it could just as easily have been three wins if a couple of things had gone their way and they were hoping to be in the battle again at Westpac Stadium.

"If we get a bit of luck, and things go our way and we keep all our players on the park we might pull away with the win," he said.

QUICK TAP: MITCHELL HUNT THANKFUL FOR EARLY CHANCES

The side had been boosted by the return of captain and fullback Ben Smith, He had been training well and was good to go and that was a 'huge positive' for the side, Brown said.

"We know what he can do on the field. The biggest asset Ben can give us is confidence for the team, especially the young guys who are having to replace a few of our players and they can go out there and know Ben Smith is there and most players play better when he is on the field."

Brown confirmed that Lima Sopoaga would be out for six to eight weeks while Waisake Naholo would be out for four to six weeks. Flanker James Lentjes, who suffered a dislocated elbow would probably be another four to five weeks.

"It's not very positive but that's just the way rugby is and we've got a few other guys who are going to step up and hopefully perform well," he said.

Fletcher Smith, who was the back-up player for Sopoaga before Marty Banks became available again, would have his chance while Banks was preferred as a substitute option with all his experience in closing games out.

Smith had the skills and just needed an opportunity, Brown said.

"He's known since Monday that he's going to play and he's had a full week of preparation and put a lot of hard work in preparing and now it's just about him going out and having confidence in his ability because he has got ability. He just needs to go and show the rest of New Zealand how good he is," he said.

Brown said Smith's hand speed was right up with the best in New Zealand and he compared him to his rival in Christchurch schools rugby Damian McKenzie. Smith hadn't had the same opportunities as McKenzie but it was his turn now.

He didn't need to see himself as marking Beauden Barrett, he just needed to play his game and if he could it would be 'pretty electric', he said.

Another getting a chance was flanker Dillon Hunt. He had talent and with the Highlanders having so many injuries in the loose forward it was his turn to have a go.

With the confidence provided by a win over the Blues the side was looking to build on that against the Hurricanes.

Lock Alex Ainley had taken a knock to his head against the Blues last weekend and was being given a break after a big effort for the side during the first three rounds. Joe Wheeler will start in his place.