The Blues held off the Highlanders 16-9 last weekend to ensure they qualify in third position, writes Central.
It was nothing flashy and, thus, ideal preparation for the knockouts as they showed they have what it takes to grind out victories in tight tussles.
That said, this won’t be an arm-wrestle. The Waratahs are limping into the Eden Park encounter having suffered a shock 33-24 loss at home to wooden spoonists Moana Pasifika last weekend and have a number of injury concerns.
Given how they were physically dominated, they won’t have the muscle to stand up to the Blues, who’ll hammer away and ultimately win rather comfortably.
Blues first-five Beauden Barrett is back at pivot for the Blues.
Barrett returns after nursing a cut to his heel suffered against the Reds in Brisbane and slots back in at 10, joined by another returnee - in-form midfielder Bryce Heem.
Captain Dalton Papalii is back at openside flanker, Akira Ioane on the blindside and Hoskins Sotutu completes the loose forward trio after a week off.
Versatile Tom Robinson moves from loose forward to lock this week to partner James Tucker in the middle of the scrum.
Dalton Papalii (c)
Kurt Eklund – potential 50th cap
Darren Coleman welcomes back four Wallabies to Waratahs' starting XV that faces the Blues in Auckland.
A new front row will form with David Porecki returning alongside Te Tera Faulkner. Archer Holz will move into the starting side replacing injured Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Jed Holloway who leads the competition in lineout wins (87) returns and will join Wallabies partner Ned Hannigan who led the team in carries last weekend (11).
Lachlan Swinton will remain at blindside. Michael Hooper will look to become the Waratahs 4th most capped player (141 caps) this Friday night, he will continue at openside flanker. Langi Gleeson will move into the starting number eight position.
Harrison Goddard will start at scrumhalf with Waratahs captain Jake Gordon unavailable due to concussion protocols. Goddard will partner with Ben Donaldson in the halves.
Newly re-signed Lalakai Foketi will return to inside centre, Foketi has been sidelined due to an ankle injury since going down in round 11 against the Rebels. Joey Walton will look to continue his impressive form at outside centre.
The back three will remain the same from last week, with Dylan Pietsch and Izaia Perese on the wings. Mark Nawaqanitwase who leads the team in carry metres (980) and defenders beaten (43) will stay at fullback.
Te Tera Faulkner (Southern Districts/ Moorabin Rams/ Marist College Canberra)
2 David Porecki (Manly/ Manly Roos/ Redlands)
3 Archer Holz (Eastern Suburbs/ The Kings School)
4 Jed Holloway (Southern Districts/ Yamba Buccaneers/ Waverley College)
5 Ned Hanigan (Randwick / Coonamble Rams / St Joseph’s College)
6 Lachlan Swinton (Sydney Uni/ Wahroonga Tigers/ Knox Grammar School)
7 Michael Hooper © (Manly/ Manly Roos/ St Pius X College)
8 Langi Gleeson (Manly/ Harbord Harlequins/ St Augustine’s College)
9 Harrison Goddard (Gordon/ Dural/ Oakhill College)
10 Ben Donaldson (Randwick/ Clovelly Eagles/ Waverly College)
11 Dylan Pietsch (Randwick/ Leeton Phantoms/ Kings School)
12 Lalakai Foketi (Manly/ Manly Roos/ Kings School)
13 Joey Walton (Gordon/ Warnervale Wildcats/ Wadalba High School)
14 Izaia Perese (Randwick/ Aspley State School/ Anglican Church Grammar)
15 Mark Nawaqanitawase (Eastwood/ St Patrick’s College)
16 Mahe Vailanu (Gordon/ Melbourne Harlequins/ Auckland Grammar)
17 Tom Lambert (Sydney Uni/ West Juniors/ Trinity Grammar)
18 Nephi Leatigaga (Randwick/ Manurewa Rugby Club/ Manurewa High School)
19 Taleni Seu (Southern Districts/ Grammar Tech/ Onehunga High School)
20 Charlie Gamble (Eastern Suburbs/ Saracens/ St Bede’s College)
21 Teddy Wilson (Eastern Suburbs / Harbord Harlequins / Kings School)
22 Tane Edmed (Eastwood/ Trinity Grammar)
23 Harry Wilson (Eastwood/Harbord Harlequins/ St Augustine’s College)