All Blacks Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo, plus speedster Patrick Osborne will spearhead the Highlanders attack against the Blues at Eden Park on Friday.

The trio are part of a powerful line-up named by coach Jamie Joseph as the Highlanders embark on the defence of their title.

Lima Sopoaga, unlucky not to make the World Cup for the All Blacks, will call the shots at No10, with Aaron Smith, considered one of the best halfbacks in the world, inside him at No9.

Openside flanker Shane Christie will co-captain the team with Ben Smith.

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Former Chiefs player Liam Squire will start at No8, with lock Alex Ainley and flanker Dan Pryor returning from injury to take their places on the reserves bench.

Otago's Teihorangi Walden, a former New Zealand Under-20 representative, will make his Super Rugby debut at second-five, with outside back Matt Faddes, a New Zealand sevens player, in line to make his debut from the bench.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (c), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, Shane Christie (c), Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves: Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Ross Geldenhuys, Alex Ainley, Dan Pryor, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Matt Faddes.