Henson faces sack at Toulon after fight with team-mates

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The Independent Online

It would be wrong to suggest that Gavin Henson is earning himself a dodgy reputation, for the very good reason that he has had one of those for years. This could be serious, though. The celebrity midfielder from Wales, whose recent rugby record includes a period of unpaid leave lasting more than 18 months and a spell of half-hearted activity at Saracens lasting all of five minutes, has now been suspended for a week by Toulon, apparently for fighting with at least one team-mate after a club game at the weekend. Some close observers of rugby affairs on the Mediterranean believe he is about to be sacked.



Whatever the outcome of this latest incident – it is alleged that the trouble started when Henson bad-mouthed some senior Toulon players following the team's return to the city after beating Toulouse before a sell-out audience along the coast in Marseilles – the prospects of him featuring in the forthcoming World Cup appear slim.

His move to France was largely driven by a desire to play some top-level, high-pressure rugby in an environment sufficiently challenging to convince the Wales coach Warren Gatland that the international credentials of old were still intact. Gatland has supported Henson down the years, despite the player's status as a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad, and would no doubt take him to the global gathering in New Zealand if he felt he was fully fit, committed and tuned-in. Quite what the coach thinks now is anyone's guess.

Henson started the game on Saturday, and immediately after the final whistle he could be heard extolling the virtues of rugby life in Toulon. While most of the "trophy" signings made by the club's owner Mourad Boudjellal – they include Jonny Wilkinson, Joe van Niekerk, George Smith and Juan Fedrnandez Lobbe – have proved sound investments, few considered the recruitment of Henson to be anything other than risky. All the same, the fact that he was picked for a game as important as last weekend's suggested things were going swimmingly.

"I must be doing something right if I'm starting for a team like this," he said after hearing that one of Gatland's lieutenants, Rob Howley, had spoken with considerable enthusiasm about him pushing for a World Cup spot. "That was the biggest club match I've ever played in. I'm quite happy with my form, my fitness isn't too bad and I don't want this to end just as it's beginning. I need to do a job for Toulon, to put a run of games together. If Rob's saying that, great. I feel so refreshed, it's like I'm 18 again."

However, the Toulon director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre sounded a note of caution, even before events turned sour. "He's doing very well," Saint-Andre said. "He's still rusty, but you can see he has class. The problem? I believe he will be picked for the World Cup, and as we have nine games to play during that time, it would be very difficult for me to have him away, as well as Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau [the Australian midfielder who will join Toulon as soon as this year's Wallaby business is concluded]. I must speak to him and his agent."

Even if Henson's stay in Provence is not already over, he will have precious little opportunity to impress Gatland and company. His ban, officially imposed for a breach of the club's code of conduct, denies him a shot at the Heineken Cup semi-finalists Perpignan this weekend, and with no guarantee of a place in the end-of-season play-offs, Toulon's season could end with a game in Montpellier in 11 days' time.

Meanwhile, Northampton are attempting to deal with a nasty outbreak of fixture congestion by fielding a weakened side against their fellow Premiership title contenders Gloucester at Kingsholm tonight. Eight big names, including four current England players and the influential prop Soane Tonga'uiha, will be on the bench. Tom Wood, the red-rose flanker who made such a spectacular fist of his first Six Nations championship, is the only undisputed first-choice player in the starting line-up.

Gavin's gaffes

* November 2005 Releases autobiography My Grand Slam Year,' aged 23, in which he criticises senior members of the British and Irish Lions squad, including head coach Sir Clive Woodward – "his tactics and game plan were out of date". He also attacked the rights of non-Welsh born players to represent the country, and was made to formally apologise.

* December 2005 Banned for 10 weeks after breaking Leicester prop Alex Moreno's nose with a swinging elbow in a Heineken Cup game. Ban reduced to seven weeks on appeal.

* December 2007 Accused of disorderly conduct following allegations of drunken behaviour on a train from London to Cardiff. All charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

* February 2009 Given police caution after "varying degrees of regrettable conduct" and allegations of assault during night out in Cardiff with three Wales team-mates. Henson later apologises after a warning from the Welsh Rugby Union. MICHAEL BUTLER

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