British and Irish Lions 2017: Robbie Henshaw to fight fire with fire in battle with All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams

The Ireland centre gets his first chance to impress Warren Gatland, but faces the daunting task of stopping All Blacks centre Williams

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The Independent Online

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.

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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.”

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.

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Sonny Bill Williams is looking to prove his fitness to Steve Hansen (Getty)

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
Robbie Henshaw

“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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