Ospreys may regret decision to axe Henson

Flamboyant centre will miss two matches – starting with the Heineken Cup game at Leicester tomorrow
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The Independent Online

It has hardly been the most sparkling of weeks for rugby's celebrity cohort, small in number but big in column inches. Just as Danny Cipriani was making the return journey from la-la land after being treated to a bunch of fives by Josh Lewsey during a typically feisty training session at Wasps, his fellow midfielder Gavin Henson, the Welshman responsible for blazing the paparazzi-lined trail Cipriani now appears to be following, was getting himself thrown out of the Ospreys team for tomorrow's big Heineken Cup game at Leicester.

The Ospreys coaches were reluctant to explain their reasons for disciplining Henson, who will also miss next weekend's home match with Perpignan as a result of the "rugby-related internal decision", but sources at the Swansea-based club pointed to a sharp disagreement over the player's training schedule. Henson missed the start of the season because he was struggling with an ankle injury; indeed, his appearance in last weekend's narrow Anglo-Welsh Cup victory over Harlequins was his first of the campaign. It was suggested yesterday that he felt he was being pushed too hard, too quickly.

Ospreys are lavishly blessed with big-name internationals and as a consequence they are frequently mocked by their local rivals as Welsh rugby's "galacticos". But the back-room hierarchy, led by the performance director, Andrew Hore, and the coaches, Sean Holley and Jonathan Humphreys, have spent recent months encouraging their players to strengthen the team ethos. As Holley put it after the Quins fixture: "You want fabulous individuals in your team and we're lucky to have a lot of them at our disposal. But rugby has to be about the sum of the parts."

This is not the first time Henson has been in the mire: he has had his moments with Wales and the Lions, too. But this latest falling-out could hurt Ospreys at least as much as it hurts him. With Sonny Parker incapacitated with a chest injury, the Welsh region have been forced to pair Tommy Bowe and Andrew Bishop in midfield for the demanding trip to Welford Road, which is a difficult enough venue for visiting teams when the hassle-count is at a minimum. At least their pack is at something like full strength, with Richard Hibbard starting at hooker and the underrated Jonathan Thomas back on the blind-side flank.

Leicester have made some interesting decisions of their own. George Chuter, one of three hookers in the England squad, finds himself on the bench, while the wing Tom Varndell, also in the elite party, has not even made that far. Johne Murphy and Matt Smith occupy the wide positions, outside a more familiar centre pairing of Aaron Mauger and Dan Hipkiss. There is better news for the England selectors at scrum-half, however. Harry Ellis, injury-prone but famously determined not to let it get the better of him, starts in the No 9 shirt.

Away from the Tigers' lair, the opening round of the tournament is dominated by a spectacular array of Anglo-French contests. Gloucester have recalled Ryan Lamb at outside-half for this evening's meeting with Biarritz at Kingsholm – Olly Barkley shifts to the inside centre position, with another England contender, James Simpson-Daniel, on the left wing – while Sale have taken the extraordinary step of dropping Charlie Hodgson to the bench for their set-to with Clermont Auvergne at Parc des Sports Michel Michelin. Richard Wigglesworth, a scrum-half by trade, plays at stand-off. Why? It would be easier to explain quantum physics to a caveman.

Wasps meet Castres at Adams Park tomorrow – yes, Danny-boy is fit to start, and does so – and despite the English champions' traumatic start to the campaign, they are expected to prevail. This assumption suits Lionel Nallet, the second-row forward who captained France in last season's Six Nations Championship, down to the ground.

"We will approach the game with modesty, because Wasps are a major team and playing them in the first round means we are in at the deep end," he said yesterday. "We, too, have had a poor start domestically, so our main objective is to find some confidence. We can do this without any great pressure at Wasps, because no one expects us to achieve anything. We are under no obligation to get a result, so we can play without constraint and enjoy a more flexible style of rugby. We can express ourselves and try things."

The notion of a French side travelling with the intention of "trying things" is alarming indeed, and Wasps will be grateful for any sort of win. Bath, meanwhile, travel to Toulouse in the certain knowledge that their hosts will be similarly unconstrained. The most successful team in Heineken Cup history have most, if not all, of their best players in the starting line-up – Maxime Medard, Cedric Heymans, Yannick Jauzion, Byron Kelleher, William Servat, Thierry Dusautoir – and have serious reinforcements on the bench in the shape of Florian Fritz and Yannick Nyanga. Bath have played quite brilliantly in recent weeks, but they will have to be extra special tomorrow.

In the second-tier Challenge Cup, Newcastle take on the might, or otherwise, of the tiny Spanish club El Salvador at Kingston Park this afternoon. At least the overmatched visitors will not have to contend with Jonny Wilkinson, who dislocated his knee at Gloucester last week. Wilkinson expects to be out for five months.

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