Highlanders return to full strength

Aaron Smith returns to the starting backline for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes

The Highlanders have welcomed back their key Test players for a vital New Zealand Super Rugby derby against the Hurricanes in Dunedin.

Ten current or past All Blacks are in the squad for Friday's fixture, where a near-full strength Highlanders will try to maintain their perfect home record this season.

Fullback Ben Smith and halfback Aaron Smith return to the starting backline while No.8 Luke White and blindside flanker Liam Squire will add punch to the loose forward mix.

There is still only a bench spot for newly-selected All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell, who has made just three starts in his rookie Super Rugby season.

Aaron Smith and Squire made notable impacts off the bench in last week's tense 18-15 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

That result left the Highlanders nine points behind the second-placed Hurricanes and 14 shy of the leading Crusaders heading into their final match before the June Test break.

The Highlanders will wear black arm bands to acknowledge the passing of head coach Aaron Mauger's mother, Christine Wilson.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have made one change to the team beaten 24-13 by the Crusaders, ending a 10-match winning streak.

Former Highlanders No.8 Gareth Evans replaces Blade Thomason and will pack down alongside captain Brad Shields, who plays his 100th Super Rugby game.

Coach Chris Boyd is persisting with Jordie Barrett out of position at centre, where he struggled to make an impact in Christchurch.

All Blacks flanker Vaea Fifita is bracketed on the reserves bench as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (co-capt), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Kalolo Tuiloma, Ash Dixon (co-capt), Daniel Lienert-Brown. Res: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Tyrel Lomax, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Josh Renton, Josh Ioane, Richard Buckman.

Hurricanes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Jodie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Gareth Evans, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields (capt), Sam Lousi, Michael Fatialofa, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Toby Smith. Res: James O'Reilly, Chris Eves, Ben May, Vaea Fifita/Murray Douglas, Blade Thomson, Finlay Christie, Ihaia West, Wes Goosen.