Gavin Henson is finally fit and excited to make Exiles debut


Foremost among the many assumptions ahead of the start of this domestic campaign was that newly promoted London Welsh could not possibly win a game without Gavin Henson performing like the world-beater he looked like being before his career disappeared down the celebrity plughole. So much for assumption.

The Exiles have already nailed two victories and generally surprised the hell out of everyone, despite losing the "orange one" to injury in a pre-season friendly.

When they meet Saracens at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford tomorrow, Henson will finally bring his undeniably blinding skills – along with his undeniably blinding tan – to the Premiership party. He replaces Gordon Ross at outside-half and even if his distribution is a little rusty, he should at least make a significant impact in a couple of important areas: defence being one of them, goal-kicking being the other.

Rather like Danny Cipriani, a fellow lost talent who tends to rediscover the best of himself when he has the former England boss Brian Ashton in his ear, Henson responds most positively to one particular coach – in his case, the inspirational Lyn Jones, with whom he worked productively at Ospreys before the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand. It was Jones's presence at London Welsh that persuaded Henson to take one last shot at professional club rugby after calamitous flirtations with Saracens, Toulon and Cardiff Blues, and it is Jones who believes most strongly that this arrangement can work.

Henson suffered a cheekbone fracture while playing against Scarlets in late August and was not expected to feature in the Exiles' senior side until the Amlin Challenge Cup meeting with the Parisian club Stade Français in a week's time. "The injury was disappointing and frustrating," said the outside-half, who will be partnered by the rather less celebrated Tyson Keats tomorrow. "However, the boys have done really well in the first five games and I cannot wait to start playing my part with the rest of the team."

The chances of London Welsh taking so much as a losing bonus point out of a side as hard-bitten as Saracens would have seemed outrageously fanciful as recently as a month ago, but even if Henson's return proves fruitless, the Exiles will be in a better than expected place after the first tranche of Premiership fixtures. Jones can even rest some of his form players over the forthcoming European fortnight in preparation for the autumn international window.

Over the last decade, teams have needed something in the region of 34 points to avoid relegation. London Welsh are slightly ahead of the game, arithmetically speaking, but a rough spell between now and Christmas would leave them in the perilous position of requiring a grandstand finish from a fast-tiring squad. Better to strike while the iron is hot. Over to you, Gav.

Premiership: Weekend team news

Exeter v Harlequins

Sentiment is in short supply in Devon, where two senior forwards, the captain Tom Hayes and the flanker James Scaysbrook, find themselves rested after 49 consecutive Premiership starts. Wallaby lock Dean Mumm makes his debut, while Quins travel in "risk" mode with Danny Care and Joe Marler on the bench.

Gloucester v Bath

Kingsholm's sandpaper-voiced choristers will be in full voice in the hope that Freddie Burns, the form outside-half in the country, can put one over the visitors from his home city. Bath have lost their skipper Stuart Hooper to injury; Gloucester have the All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowan on the bench.

London Irish v Northampton

The table-topping visitors may be without their outstanding hooker Dylan Hartley, but they think an awful lot of the youngster Mike Haywood, who fills in today. Irish, in dire need of answers after a run of wretched performances, shift Steven Shingler to full-back and the multi-tasking Matt Garvey to the back row.

London Welsh v Saracens

Leaving aside the Gavin Henson fandango, the notable news from the Exiles is that Mike Denbee, a low-profile flanker whose name may yet end up in lights, is back from injury. Saracens have some intriguing combinations: Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell in midfield, Will Fraser and Andy Saull on the flanks.

Wasps v Worcester

An important game for the Londoners, who started the campaign in the full flush of optimism but are finding victories hard to come by. Their captain Hugo Southwell returns, but Worcester have been scoring unusually heavily and know what it is to win at Adams Park.


election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'