Henson out of Wales squad amid fitness concerns
Wednesday 17 May 2006
It would have been quite a sight: Gavin Henson, hair permed and legs waxed, playing Test rugby in wet and windy Patagonia, where the local definition of a prima donna is a farmer with a centrally-heated house. Unfortunately, the celebrity centre has been withdrawn from the Wales squad to tour Argentina this summer after failing to meet fitness standards. He will, according to the new national coach Gareth Jenkins, spend the summer "getting himself right" with an eye on next year's World Cup in France.
Henson has not enjoyed the best of years, to say the least. He cut a sorry figure on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand - his supporters still insist the goal-kicking midfielder was badly mishandled by Sir Clive Woodward and his senior back-room staff - and then landed himself in a heap of trouble by putting his name to a warts-and-all diary account of his year in the spotlight. By way of making matters worse, he was also sent off while playing for the Ospreys in a nasty Heineken Cup pool game with Leicester.
The main concern over Henson now is the state of his body - and, reading between the lines, his mind. "There is an injury component to deal with - a troublesome groin that needs managing - but we didn't feel the problem was sufficient to rule him out of the tour and initially decided he would benefit from game time," said Jenkins yesterday. "However, after working closely with Gavin in training this week and talking to him and his regional coaches, we have taken the collective decision that he will be more valuable to us next season after a summer working on his conditioning and bringing his speed and weight back up to optimum levels."
While Wales are playing the Pumas in Puerto Madryn - as well as in the more familiar surroundings of the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires - there will be a good deal of activity at the other end of the American land mass. England A, rechristened England Saxons for reasons best known to those elderly Twickenhamites who claim to have played alongside Alfred the Great, will be in Canada, defending the Churchill Cup against the likes of the New Zealand Maori.
David Barnes, the Bath prop and current chairman of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, will lead the 28-strong party - a fair reflection of his performances for the West Country club at Premiership and Heineken Cup levels. With the England under-21 selectors having first call on the likes of Ryan Lamb, Danny Care and Jack Forster ahead of the forthcoming age-group World Cup, the Toronto-bound squad is not quite as ambitious as it might have been.
But it does still feature a number of eye-catching Premiership performers, including two - the Gloucester No 8 James Forrester and the young London Irish hooker David Paice - who should have made the cut for the fully-fledged Test business in Australia.
There was no confirmation of the Saxons' coaching panel, an indication that John Wells, the former Leicester coach originally lined up for the trip, will fly to Sydney with the senior team. Jon Callard, who works alongside Wells at the national academy, is the favourite to take on the Churchill Cup role.
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