Henson: 'I don't want to watch this World Cup on television'
Friday 03 June 2011
"If this is a marketing exercise," said the Wales coach Warren Gatland, talking about his hotly-debated decision to recall the troublesome centre Gavin Henson to national colours for tomorrow's game with the Barbarians at the 74,500-capacity Millennium Stadium, "I haven't made a very good job of it. There are only 30,000 tickets sold."
In other words, Henson's reappearance in midfield three months shy of the World Cup in New Zealand is the real deal. If he fronts up, he flies out.
No one understands this better than the player himself. "This is massive for me," Henson acknowledged. "I've missed out on two World Cups and I don't want to watch this one on television. It all boils down to this one chance. I'm well down the pecking order, which is fair enough, so I'd like to be coming into this off the back of 20 games.
"That's not the case, unfortunately, but if my match fitness isn't quite where it should be, I like to think I look after myself. We'll see what happens."
Gatland will name a training squad of 45 players immediately after this meeting with the sport's most celebrated invitation team, who will field a centre pairing so substantial that Henson's readiness for serious competitive rugby will be obvious from the outset. "They're big blokes, aren't they?" he said of his opponents, Seru Rabeni of Fiji and Mathieu Bastareaud of France. "Thankfully, I'll have Jonathan Davies outside me. He's a lump too."
Since his last appearance at international level in the 2009 Six Nations, his career has lurched from drama to crisis and back again. He took a long period of unpaid leave from the Swansea-based Ospreys, much to their exasperation, before spending a desultory spell at Saracens – the Premiership club he joined once he had stopped pretending to be a ballroom dancer. Thereafter, it was off to the south of France for a stint with Toulon, during which he was suspended for fighting with a colleague. When push came to shove, as opposed to punch, the Frenchmen decided against offering him a fresh contract.
"How do I reflect on Toulon? It was crazy the way things were blown out of proportion," he said. "Half the stuff written just wasn't true: if I'd done some of the things I was accused of doing, I'd never have played for anyone again. There was a clash of personalities, it was sorted out man to man – in private, not in public – and our relationship ended up being the closer for it. These things happen in rugby clubs every week."
And the Ospreys saga? "The decision to stop playing when I did was definitely the right one for me," he insisted. "Mentally, I just couldn't carry on the way I was. I'd lost my energy and my drive and without those things, I can't play. I feel much better for it now. This feels like winning my first cap all over again.
"In fact, it feels better than that. When I made my debut for Wales in Japan a decade ago, it wasn't a great experience. I thought I should have started that game: instead, they gave me two minutes off the bench. This is very different."
Henson wants to return to club rugby, preferably in southern France, and has been linked with the two Basque clubs, Bayonne and Biarritz. The Parisians of Stade Francais are also said to be interested, along with Cardiff Blues. "I'm thinking only of Wales at the moment," he said, "but I hope there'll be a job for me out there somewhere."
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