Henson stakes Lions claim as Ospreys soar to victory

Neath-Swansea Ospreys 29 Edinburgh 12
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The Wales centre Gavin Henson scored a match-winning 24 points at The Gnoll on Saturday night to state his claim firmly for aseat on the British and Irish Lions' plane to New Zealand in late May.

The Wales centre Gavin Henson scored a match-winning 24 points at The Gnoll on Saturday night to state his claim firmly for aseat on the British and Irish Lions' plane to New Zealand in late May.

Henson, who a week earlier had helped Wales complete the Six Nations Grand Slam, scored a try and kicked seven goals as the Ospreys clinched the Celtic League trophy in only their second season as a regional team - and with a game to spare.

The gifted centre admitted that the past week had been a little surreal. "I didn't actually think I played that well - I'm still hungover from the Grand Slam celebrations," he said. "It's great to win this for the guys who did all the work while the rest of us were on Test duty."

The Ospreys coaches Lyn Jones and Sean Holley are tipped for higher honours after their success with a young side, and Jones said that Saturday night's triumph was a victory for the "brave" decision to regionalise Welsh rugby.

"We're delighted to take this title but next year we really want to do better in Europe," he said. "We've centralised and pooled our resources, moved things on, learnt a great deal about rugby union and caught the Irish up. It's a fantastic feeling, it's been a lot of hard work and I'm delighted to see so many good players fulfilling their potential."

Henson must be bordering on a Lions Test start after his polished performances in the No 12 jersey. His strength in defence, silky running and huge touch-finders are the talk of the town, but his goal-kicking may cement a berth alongside the Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll.

To prove the crucial penalties he kicked against England and Ireland were no flukes, Henson landed seven goals from all angles and distances against Edinburgh, including a monster 55-metre effort that will have raised eyebrows as far away as New Zealand. Sir Clive Woodward leaving Henson out now would be akin to Wimbledon officials saying, "Sorry, Tim, we can't seem to find room for you".

Henson opened the scoring with three penalty goals as the Ospreys dominated the first quarter, and their fans were celebrating early as a brave Edinburgh side showed they did not have the talent to spoil the party.

The Ospreys back-rowers Steve Tandy and Ryan Jones combined to put a New Zealander, the scrum-half Jason Spice, over for the game's first try, but the home side relaxed in defence to give the Edinburgh hooker Andrew Kelly the longest run of his career for a well-taken score.

Henson made it five goals from five attempts to give the Ospreys a 19-7 lead at the break, and kicked Edinburgh while they were down with that huge goal from inside his own half.

The replacement Edinburgh prop Alistair Dickinson added to the Ospreys' blushes by joining his front-row partner Kelly on the scoresheet, narrowing the margin to 22-12, but the fans at The Gnoll knew their side would seal the win, and they knew how.

Henson made the initial break, and got back to his feet to be the extra man and score near the left corner flag. Game over.

Neath-Swansea Ospreys: Tries Spice, Henson; Penalties Henson 5; Conversions Henson 2. Edinburgh: Tries Kelly, Dickinson; Conversion Paterson.

Neath-Swansea Ospreys: S Terblanche (A Durston, 78); R Mustoe, S Parker, G Henson, S Williams; M Jones (E Seveali'i, 68), J Spice (R Rees, 78); D Jones, B Williams (capt) (R Hibbard, 78), A Millward (A Jones, 55), B Cockbain, J Thomas, R Jones (L Bateman, 73), S Tandy (R Pugh, 59), J Bater.

Edinburgh: H Southwell; C Paterson (capt), M Di Rollo (B MacDougall, 68), B Laney, S Webster; P Godman, M Blair (R Lawson, 62); A Jacobsen, A Kelly, C Smith (A Dickinson, 31), N Hines, A Kellock (F Pringle, 71), A Hogg (D Callam, 62), S Cross, S Taylor.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).