Henson puts the boot in to ensure no Welsh slip

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Wales always like the spotlight and there can be no bigger stage in northern hemisphere rugby than a Grand Slam decider. Step forward Gavin Henson.

Wales always like the spotlight and there can be no bigger stage in northern hemisphere rugby than a Grand Slam decider. Step forward Gavin Henson.

When the nerve ends were stretched within Welsh souls as tight as piano wire, there was Henson to calm sweating brows, to make a decisive contribution. Wales's Grand Slam has been achieved principally through teamwork, yet none can doubt the immense part Henson has played in what will surely be the renaissance of Welsh rugby.

Perhaps it is the shaving of his legs, so beloved of teenage girls, that is the secret ingredient. Maybe it adds metres to his kicks because, for sure, when Henson hoofs the ball, he gets the sort of distances more associated with those on South Africa's High Veld. The ball simply soars downfield.

But it was the all-round contribution that Henson made yesterday which sustained Wales's bid for their first Grand Slam in 27 years. They made the nerviest of starts, all knees a-knocking and hearts a-pounding after Ronan O'Gara's third-minute penalty. Stephen Jones missed the chance to equalise with a horrible half shank of a penalty attempt.

But nine minutes later, Henson calmed the 74,000 in attendance with a brilliantly struck drop goal from 38 metres.

Not satisfied with that, when Brian O'Driscoll was penalised for playing the ball on the ground, Henson stepped up to attempt an audacious penalty goal from 52 metres. The bang he gave it would have been heard halfway down the M4 to Newport as it sailed over.

Henson is an entertainer supreme, a big-match performer, but he does the basics so completely too. O'Driscoll pressed the pedal looking for a half-gap midway through the first 40 minutes but Henson, with a contribution from Stephen Jones, slammed the door in his face. There was not much evidence of pre-Lions tour bonding in that instance between the two centres likely to form the Lions' midfield in New Zealand this summer.

Ireland made so many errors and were guilty of such ill discipline that they were their own worst enemies. But when they did press, Henson was frequently on hand to hammer the ball downfield and relieve the pressure. If he was not doing that, he was making more pounding tackles on O'Driscoll, to the growing frustration of the Irish captain.

Henson is no greyhound on the run but he carries an air of conviction, a poise and a promise which demand respect from any opposing midfield. He has, too, that priceless knack of being in the right place at the right time and making the decisive contribution. Such players cannot be found growing on trees and their threat is timeless.

Wales grabbed the Slam principally by the efforts of all 15 men. But when they needed him, they had Henson and few of their opponents possessed anyone of such quality.

Another of Wales's heroes, the scrum-half Dwayne Peel, hailed his side's success as an "awesome" achievement yesterday. Peel was a key figure as Wales finally and conclusively laid all the ghosts which have haunted every team since those distant glory days of 1978.

"It is brilliant. It is a credit to the team. We have come through some dark periods," Peel said. "The fans came out and the boys performed. It is awesome. There were also 40,000 fans in Scotland last week, and it is just awesome.

"They came at us all guns blazing but we played very well and defended the line. We gave it everything we'd got.

"For Wales to win the Grand Slam for the first time in 27 years is something special."

Peel's team-mate Shane Williams also paid tribute to the Welsh supporters.

He said: "This is unbelievable, to be honest, and the supporters were tremendous. Any team coming to Cardiff when it's like this are going to find it difficult."

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