Smith ready to make most of sustained build-up

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Thursday, February 22, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Smith said he had enjoyed having a complete pre-season because that was something he hadn't been able to do for a while, and the excitement of getting back into rugby had boosted his feeling.

"We've had two big hit-outs in the pre-season but they're going to be nothing compared to Friday night," he said.

It had been a little odd, he said, playing his first pre-season game back against the Waratahs but he enjoyed getting back into it and added that he felt more comfortable during the second game, against the Crusaders.

Being on sabbatical for the second half of 2017 he admitted to missing being in the team environment [with the All Blacks] but at the same time he appreciated the better feeling with his body in better shape and with more energy resulting.

He was hopeful of making a good start to Super Rugby.

The Blues were a good side with some talented players and the Highlanders would have apply a lot of pressure on them because if they were able to get the ball to their back three they could cause a little damage.

"I'm expecting they'll be ready to go and it's going to be a really good first encounter for us," he said.

Co-captain Ash Dixon was looking forward to a better season this year after frustrations with injury.

"I've put all that behind me now and I'm looking forward to playing, it should be good fun," he said.

Dixon had enjoyed working under the new coaching team.

"It's been really good. Aaron's brought his own flavour into the side. We've had a pretty good foundation here with what Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown have set up and it has been really good having some different ideas and opinions and the boys have really enjoyed a fresh start.

"Azza's [Mauger] been really positive and a really good guy so for us it's just about us going out there and enjoying ourselves," he said.

As always in contests with the Blues, the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy was on the line and that was to the forefront of the Highlanders' thinking ahead of the game.