COLIN SLADE will make his return from injury via the bench when the Highlanders play the Crusaders in Dunedin tomorrow night.
Slade missed last week’s opening game against the Chiefs as he recovered from a groin injury which ended his Rugby World Cup campaign last year.
Coach Jamie Joseph has resisted the temptation to rush him back into the starting team, with Lima Sopoaga to run the cutter in the absence of the injured Chris Noakes (ankle).
Joining Slade on the bench is All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan, who has lost his starting spot to youngster Aaron Smith.
Cowan has paid the price for a poor game against the Chiefs, against whom his service from the base of the scrum was laboured.
There is one change on the bench, with wing Telusa Veainu coming in for Kurt Baker.
Baker will play for the Highlanders development team instead.
Meanwhile, a tightened hamstring has ruled Crusaders second five Ryan Crotty out of the match.
Adam Whitelock will wear the No 12 jersey and Patrick Osborne takes his place in the reserves.
Highlanders: Ben Smith, Buxton Popoali’i, Tamati Ellison, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Adam Thomson, Nick Croswell, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh (c)
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Culum Retallick, James Haskell, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade, Telusa Veainu
Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock, Israel Dagg, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock, Tom Donnelly, Ben Franks, Quentin MacDonald, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock, Willie Heinz, Zac Guildford, Patrick Osborne
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.