Henson the hair-raiser

Quicksilver centre kicks long and high to break English hearts after sweet Williams try ushers in a new era
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The Independent Online

"Welcome," Gavin Henson might have said, "to Test rugby, son." Henson is only four years older and a dozen caps richer than Mathew Tait, but when England's touted teenager took his first international pass and ran at his opposite centre he went, in short order, up, back and down.

Henson did it again in the second half, and Tait was replaced by Olly Barkley after an hour. Undeterred, Henson handed another one to Julian White, England's tighthead prop. They were tremendous tackles from a player at the heart of a scrappy and often near-illegible match. Fittingly, he sealed a famous 11-9 victory with a 45-metre penalty from the right-hand touchline with four minutes to go.

Henson's kicking game was to the fore long before that. Towards the end of a cagey first half that saw Danny Grewcock and the Welsh captain Gareth Thomas sent to the sin-bin for reckless use of the boot and retaliation respectively, he sent a 60-yard touch-finder down England's left that was simply outstanding. On other occasions he chose to chip or hoist an up and under when perhaps there were chances for Shane Williams, the try-scorer, out wide. But the hair-raising centre stood out nonetheless.

England never looked comfortable against a fired-up, if slightly inhibited Welsh side. The new-look back row and, indeed, centre pairing never settled, with Tait and his Newcastle club-mate Jamie Noon stretched in defence and hesitant and hurried in attack.

In the second half the England pack began to gain some sort of a handle on the match with Chris Jones, the lanky flanker parachuted in when Lewis Moody withdrew on Friday, working well. Despite the efforts of Martyn Williams in particular, it looked ominous for the Welsh, as Barkley's arrival gave England a kicking weapon to match Henson. Indeed Charlie Hodgson's much-maligned right boot nudged England ahead with two penalties, and for a short while it seemed the visitors had escaped with an unlikely and ungainly victory. But that reckoned without the man in the silver boots. "I was really positive," he said afterwards. "I'd been kicking those all week."

In Paris, Scotland's coach Matt Williams was spitting the blood his side had sweated in an agonising and fruitless 80 minutes. "That game was won by Scotland," said Williams, though the 16-9 score to France said otherwise. "I am outraged by the fact we lost the game and I am outraged at the decisions which were made."

Bernard Laporte's quixotically-selected French team benefited from a disallowed "try" from Allister Hogg and a harsh yellow card for Jon Petrie. A late Damien Traille try from a charged down kick sealed a shaky win for the champions.