Robbie Henshaw has called on his British and Irish Lions teammates to take on the All Blacks by fighting fire with fire, and that begins against the Blues when he goes head-to-head with his old rugby idol Sonny Bill Williams.
Henshaw is well in the running for a place in the Lions Test side and gets his first chance to impress when he runs out against the Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday night opposite another man with ambitions of being involved in the first Test with the All Blacks on 24 June.
Williams returns from the knee injury after passing a fitness test here in Auckland on Tuesday, and will line-up alongside fellow All Blacks George Moala in an exciting centre partnership that could well be Steve Hansen’s preferred choice in two and a half weeks’ time.
While Henshaw will be able to draw on his experience of beating New Zealand last October, he did not face Williams on that occasion, with the centre sidelined with a broken ankle suffered at the Rio Olympic Games the month before.
“It's going to be tricky tomorrow but I'm looking forward to it,” Henshaw said of the challenge facing him in Williams which will particularly focus in stopping his incredible ability to offload in the tackle.
“I was a big fan of his when I was a kid. Whether it was performing in league or for the All Blacks, I suppose to be coming up against him is pretty surreal. I'm looking forward to playing against him and having a go.”
Lions vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians player ratings
Lions vs New Zealand Provincial Barbarians player ratings
1/15 Stuart Hogg - 5 out of 10
Butchered a try-scoring opportunity when his poor pass forced Watson to sprawl just to catch the ball, and also should have got over the line following good work from Te’o. Failed to collect the ball when chipped through by Inga Finau in defence.
2/15 Anthony Watson – 6 out of 10
Finished his try well, dancing his way past Laulala to touch down and score what proved to be the match-winning try. Otherwise he was fairly anonymous.
3/15 Jonathan Joseph – 5 out of 10
Apart from being held up with the final play of the first half, he did little of note and was outshined by his centre partner.
4/15 Ben Te’o – 7 out of 10
Looked the most lively Lion out there as he made two surging breaks in the first half, the second of which should have sent Hogg over. Continued to work hard after breaks and made another telling run into the Barabarians 22, and he also did a shift in defence with a crucial ball-rip in the closing minutes.
5/15 Tommy Seymour – 6 out of 10
Starved of the ball which gave him little to do. One good kick-chase forced a knock-on, but that’s about it.
6/15 Jonathan Sexton – 5 out of 10
Did not cover himself in glory at all as his passing was wayward and kicked straight into touch on the full from an attacking scrum. Missed his first effort at goal, and was receiving treatment when the next shot at goal came around, meaning Greig Laidlaw had to take it. His withdrawal and the introduction of Owen Farrell changed the game.
7/15 Greig Laidlaw – 6 out of 10
Lacked the direction needed to guide a pack that has barely played together and he was too slow to take the ball from the breakdown. Looked unsure of his options whenever he took the ball to the line, that meant he at times needed to take the ball into contact unnecessarily.
8/15 Joe Marler – 6 out of 10
Didn’t enjoy the scrum advantage that you would have expected from the big Harlequins prop, and his high work-rate at the start of the game tailed off slightly as the barbarians fought fire with fire. Replaced in a full front-row switch in the 50th minute.
9/15 Rory Best – 6 out of 10
Solid at the lineout as the Lions were at least able to battle on that front, but he was off the pace in the loose.
10/15 Kyle Sinckler – 7 out of 10
Enjoyed a good start to the match, and while he was carrying well, it was his slight of touch that impressed with neat offloads and long passes to the back line standing out. He left the field after a silly decision to tap-and-go from a penalty that resulted in conceding one, but the fact that that proved to be his final contribution should not take away from a good outing.
11/15 Alun Wyn Jones - 7 out of 10
Wore a big hit from replacement hooker Andrew Makalio but recovered well and dished out his own punishment when Sevu Reece ran down his channel. One of the more reliable players and showed his experience at the death to see out the match.
12/15 Iain Henderson - 6 out of 10
Failed to collect the kick-off that resulted in seven minutes of pressure without the Lions escaping their half. Carried well though that freed up his teammates, but didn’t have the impact that he would have wanted.
13/15 Ross Moriarty - 7 out of 10
Two big tackles and one strong run saw him bounce off two defenders before surging into the opposition 22. One of the Lions’ more prominent runners and put in a few powerful tackles, while it was his insurgence in the Barbarians 22 that set-up the Lions’ try.
14/15 Sam Warburton - 5 out of 10
Fairly anonymous in the first half, both as a leader and as an openside flanker. He looked shattered at the start of the second half, which is no surprise given he has not played for two months. He was replaced by Justin Tipuric shy of the hour mark.
15/15 Taulupe Faletau – 7 out of 10
Two good runs in the first half got the Lions onto the front foot, and he also showed strength to stay on his feet before hitting the deck when the support arrived. Looked to take on some responsibility when it wasn’t all going the Lions’ way, and he further cemented his place in the Test line-up with a simply brilliant try-saving tackle on Reece Suva.
Henshaw added: “If he’s a one-out runner and there’s no-one with him, obviously I’ll look to come in and make a double hit on him and try and stop his offload threat, but you have to obviously look at the guys who are flooding through as well.
“Often as a part of defending you have to go a double man tackle on him, one high and one low, and try and stop the offloads around it. It’s definitely going to be a tough challenge but I think we have the right man in place to execute a good defensive system tomorrow.”
Following the nervy 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians last Saturday, much of the Lions’ most dangerous aspects have been forgotten, or at least not mentioned, in the lead up to their first game against Super Rugby opposition.
An impressive performance against the Blues will go a long way to re-establishing the belief that this Lions squad can genuinely challenge the All Blacks when they meet in the three Test series that begins later this month, though Tana Umaga’s side have been tipped by Lions head coach Warren Gatland to pose the biggest physical threat of any one of the five Super Rugby sides.
Henshaw will not shy away from the physical confrontation though, and the Ireland centre believes that if they are to get the better of the reigning world champions, the Lions must match their physicality and fight fire with fire.
We can't sit off and let these boys play because they can tear teams up in the blink of an eye
“Absolutely, that's the thing. We need to come with an attack mentality here,” he said. “We can't sit off and let these boys play because they can tear teams up in the blink of an eye.
“Our mentality is to go after these teams and to show our mentality, that we're coming here to play and to go after these teams in defence as well.
“That's the mentality we're going to look at and try and implement tomorrow.”
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