Gatland working on Henson's fragile ego

If the average rugby fan was asked for their opinion on what Gavin Henson might be lacking they may well answer "hairs on his legs", "a quiet night in" or "a short back and sides". They would probably not be minded to mention "self-belief".

Well, little do they know because in a fascinating insight into this most misunderstood of sporting superheroes, Warren Gatland has revealed it is in the ego department that the 26-year-old falls short.

"We are working with Gavin to get him to talk more and communicate more and get confidence and self-belief in his ability," said the Wales coach. "When he does go out there and he has that belief and confidence, we know what a great player he can be. Gavin expresses himself by the way he looks on the field and stuff. Off the field he is very quiet and a very private person. A lot of people are surprised to hear that."

The South Africans may be among these as they target the inside-centre for close attention in Saturday's Test at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Henson's importance to his country cannot be overstated, a fact the world finally woke up to in March when he made it 10 wins out of 10 starts in the Six Nations Championship. Wales just happened to net two Grand Slams in those Henson appearances.

His contribution to the latest Wales glory was immense as he took over the mantle of defensive captain in a team which shipped a record two tries all Championship. That was a shrewd move by Gatland and his lieutenant Shaun Edwards. "That is just part of our role as coaches, to keep talking to him and keep giving him those responsibilities and leadership roles we've been working on," Gatland said .

Clearly Henson will have his work cut out against the Springboks, particularly as he has had only started three games this season and missed the summer Tests against the world champions. The recovery process from a serious ankle injury – followed by a two-match ban imposed on the Osprey for going AWOL from training – means Henson's appearances have effectively been confined to the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Henson admitted he was surprised at the autumn series call-up, but Gatland, an obvious admirer, did not hesitate.

"Gavin is one of those players that likes to have a number of games under his belt to feel good about himself when he's playing – that is the type of player he is," said the Kiwi. "But when he gets back into the swing of things you will see that confidence return. I am not worried about that at all. We have said to him there is no need to push himself – he doesn't need to train if the Achilles is giving him a bit of a problem – but he's very keen to get out there."

Meanwhile, Gatland may be without his two current first-choice scrum-halves, Gareth Cooper and Dwayne Peel, for the Test against Australia on 29 November. Yesterday, Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for the 12 Guinness Premiership clubs, announced that neither Sale's Peel nor Gloucester's Cooper will be available to face the Wallabies. This is due to the fixture falling outside the International Rugby Board's international autumn window.

In a statement last night, the WRU said: "In the case of Dwayne Peel, the WRU has been told by his club that his release for the Australia international is not an issue. But the PRL has informed us he will be needed for club duties. The WRU is currently seeking clarification."

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