Henson ready to return for grateful Ospreys

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The Independent Online

This weekend's Powergen Cup tie between Bristol and the Ospreys may be as dead as the proverbial dodo, but the prospect of Gavin Henson coming back to life after spending the last six months in rugby purgatory gives events at the Memorial Ground a certain interest. The Wales centre is likely to play some part in the fixture, having recovered from the groin surgery he underwent after last summer's Lions tour of New Zealand.

That visit to All Black country signalled the start of Henson's descent into the nether regions of the sporting spirit. Ignored for the first Test in the three-match rubber when most observers considered him worthy of a starting place, he quickly found himself the central figure in one of the tour's many bitter controversies. Belatedly picked for the second match, he disappeared in a fog of injury and depression. When he returned home, he criticised a number of his colleagues and rivals in a frank and forthright diary of his season, and ended up apologising to the entire Wales squad.

He is, however, still a professional rugby player, as opposed to a professional celebrity, and he must be relishing the opportunity to get stuck in. "Gavin will step us his training this week and we'll soon be in a position to judge if he's ready to go back into the mix," said Derwyn Jones, the Ospreys team manager. "He will probably play some part at Bristol, perhaps off the bench."

The Ospreys need all the good news they can get. Having lost two Lions forwards, the lock Brent Cockbain and the outstanding No 8 Ryan Jones, to long-term injury, the Celtic League champions have been inconsistent at best. They have no future in the Powergen Cup - Bath and Gloucester will dispute the one available semi-final place from Pool A later on Saturday afternoon - but they are still alive in the Heineken Cup with important back-to-back matches with Leicester scheduled before Christmas. A fit and firing Henson would make them feel a whole lot better.

If the Ospreys have their issues, they are nowhere near as troubled as Australia, who returned home yesterday having lost three of the four Tests on their European tour. Predictably, their coach Eddie Jones ran into some serious flak the moment he landed, but he defended himself with characteristic determination.

"I'm very keen to continue; I've never discussed any other possibility," said Jones, who will make a presentation - or rather, offer an explanation - to the board of the Australia Rugby Union tomorrow week. "Certainly, I take responsibility for all the results that have happened over the last period of time, but I'm keen to sit down and have a chat to the board and take it from there.

"Everything needs to be reviewed, but it's very easy for a side to implode when they've had such bad results. What we've managed to do is to stick together. We have faith in what we're doing and know there are some good times around the corner." It remains to be seen whether Jones shares in those good times, assuming they are not a figment of his imagination.

In more fall-out from the autumn internationals, the Springbok captain John Smit has been suspended for six weeks for illegal use of the elbow during South Africa's defeat by France in Paris last weekend. Smit, who was in possession, smashed the Tricolore lock Jérôme Thion full in the face after charging into the Frenchman's tackle with his right arm raised.

One of the form hookers in world rugby, Smit was cited by the match commissioner, David Gray of New Zealand, and sentenced by the International Rugby Board's judicial officer, Denis Wheelahan of Australia. His suspension will begin on 14 January, the opening day of the South African season, and last until 26 February.

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