Henson needs 'one big game' for Wales return

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He might have missed out on the World Cup, but the Prince William Cup could be another matter for Gavin Henson. Yesterday the cause célèbre of Welsh rugby was named in the preliminary squad for his country's contest at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday week against a South African XV that might be a little light on actual Webb Ellis Cup winners. Whether he makes the match-day 22, though, will depend on his ability to shine under the Kingsholm floodlights tomorrow night. And not simply with that trademark perma-tan.

In including Henson in his initial 41-man squad yesterday, Nigel Davies, on caretaker coaching duty ahead of Warren Gatland's formal instalment as Wales' head coach next month, stressed that the 25-year-old utility back needed to prove his form for the Ospreys in their potential cracker of a Heineken Cup-tie at Gloucester on Friday night to make it through the next cut. The party – which includes the uncapped Llanelli Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart but not the cap centurion Gareth Thomas, Wales' World Cup captain – will be reduced to 24 on Sunday.

"Gavin is one of the players who is in the category of needing a big game this weekend to convince us he is ready to return to the international arena," Davies said. "He has been showing encouraging signs for the Ospreys and it will be a tough test for him at Gloucester, playing against Mike Tindall and Anthony Allen. It's a big game for him in a difficult environment and we'll know a little bit more about where he is after that. We need him somewhere near the peak of his powers."

No pressure there then for the man whose international career has been in virtual suspension since 2005. Still, if he can measure up to Tindall and the Cherry and Whites – with the denizens of The Shed breathing something other than sweet nothings down his neck – Henson will have proved his mettle. Not that it happens to be a small if, Gloucester having cut Ulster to ribbons in their 32-14 win at Ravenhill last Friday night with Tindall in razor-sharp form.

It promises to be a fascinating match-up: the two inside centres with celebrity other halves, both looking to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup. Henson was named in the preliminary Welsh squad for the global competition but was jettisoned because of what Gareth Jenkins, Wales coach at the time, described as "a lack of conditioning" after an ankle injury. He has only made the one start for Wales since the 2005 Grand Slam season: in the 29-29 draw against Australia in Cardiff last November.

Steve Thompson has not started for England since March 2006 and threw himself on the rugby scrap-heap in April, due to an apparently career-ending neck injury. Tonight the World Cup-winning hooker of 2003 continues his unlikely comeback with a second spot of bench duty for Brive in the European Challenge Cup at Newcastle. Not that his is the only Lazarus mission on the go.

Graham Henry and his assistants, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, are desperately trying to resurrect their All Black coaching careers in the wake of New Zealand's World Cup quarter-final exit. Yesterday the trio attended a performance review held by the committee of the New Zealand Rugby Union in Wellington. According to The New Zealand Herald, their detailed video presentation outlined why the 20-18 defeat against France in Cardiff could be attributed to the refereeing of the Englishman Wayne Barnes.

Wales squad

(Preliminary squad for Test v South Africa, Millennium Stadium, Sat 24 Nov)

Backs: L Byrne (Ospreys), M Stoddart, M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys), T James, T Shanklin, J Robinson (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Parker (Ospreys), S Jones (Llanelli), J Hook (Ospreys), C Sweeney (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), D Peel (Llanelli), G Cooper (Gloucester).

Forwards: J Thomas (Ospreys), A Popham (Llanelli), C Charvis (Newport-Gwent), R Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff), A-W Jones, I Evans (Ospreys), M Owen, L Charteris (Newport-Gwent), I Gough (Ospreys), R Thomas (Newport-Gwent), A Jones, H Bennett (Ospreys), M Rees (Llanelli), T R Thomas (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Cardiff, capt), D Jones (Ospreys).

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