Henson injury mars red rising

Celebrity centre shows encouraging signs next to heavy-hitter Roberts but has worrying wait for an arm x-ray today
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The Independent Online

There were two priorities for Warren Gatland yesterday: the first was to see Wales win, the second to make a valid assessment of Gavin Henson's form and fitness. So the last person Gatland wanted to see leave the rutted playing surface of the Millennium Stadium after only 31 minutes was Henson. The centre, it was feared, hadbroken his right arm.

The damage appeared to be more to the centre's wrist, but the results of an X-ray today will show whether Henson still has a chance of going to his first World Cup.

"Gav heard quite a loud noise from his arm – it could be a popped capsule but we'll know more tomorrow," said Gatland. "He looked good when he was on the field."

Henson needs all the game time he can find and Gatland needs to include him in a more experienced Wales XV to play Argentina next Saturday. Before yesterday, Henson had started only four games in two years, one for Saracens at the turn of the year, two for Toulon in early spring and one against the Barbarians in June.

His contribution here summed up that entire period since his last genuine Test appearance, against Ireland in 2009. Though wearing 12, Henson spent much of the game at outside-centre. He was still able to demonstrate his creative gifts: with his first touch, in the fifth minute, he offered that familiar, slanting run which attracts two defenders before he releases.

That helped his support make space on the left wing for the No 8, Toby Faletau, but it was the first of only three times Henson touched the ball. His last came when he up-ended the centre Shontayne Hape as the visitors attacked deep in the 22. Henson then scurried back into defence to send a clearing kick 50 metres and force England to attack from deep again.

No one has ever suggested Henson's defence is not up to scratch. Then, though, came the wringing of the right hand, the trot back into the line and the call to the sideline for a replacement. Henson spent the rest of the game clutching an ice bag to his arm and watching the 20-year-old Scott Williams make a decent fist of his 50 minutes on the field.

Williams is one of the promising youngsters to emerge from the Scarlets academy and he did his cause no harm at all. But Henson has what he has not – experience, both of occasions bigger than this and of New Zealand, the country he toured as a Lion in 2005. Last December, prior to his return to rugby with Saracens after an 18-month sabbatical, Henson said: "I think I can wing it," when asked about his prospects of making the World Cup.

To take him to New Zealand, assuming that he is not too badly damaged, would be an act of faith, but Gatland has always been a believer. The combination of Henson and Jamie Roberts is almost irresistible, therapier and the bludgeon. Roberts, of course, has far more to his armoury than mere physical presence, though that was enough to blight Matt Banahan's afternoon when Roberts dumped him on his backside in the seventh minute, and to find Hape wanting in the tackle.

If Gatland was the happiest New Zealander in Cardiff last night, havinggiven Wales the victory they so sorelywanted, the happiest Englishman was probably Shaun Edwards. Not that Edwards does happy at the best of times, but the Welsh defence coach would have been delighted at the solidity of the tackling which time and again prevented an England try, forced a turnover or, too frequently for English comfort, a penalty.

Wales's back row do not number many caps or years between them – Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Faletau have 33 caps and an average age of 22 – but they were the heart of their team. They were not error-free but given the scrum they were playing behind, they workedwonders.

Gatland, as a former front-row forward, will have serious concerns about his front five. He cannot go to New Zealand with a scrum which struggled as much as Wales's did yesterday, but he may have to – there are serious concerns about the fitness of Matthew Rees, the hooker and captain, and the props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, who with Rees made up the Lions front row against South Africa in 2009.

Gatland hopes that Jenkins, one of three forwards to undergo rehabilitation work in London during the week, and Jones will be involved next weekend, but Rees is struggling with a neck injury.

"We will make the best decision for his health," Gatland said, talking about far wider implications than the World Cup. This means that a player such as Lloyd Burns, who has started no more than a dozen professional games for the Newport Gwent Dragons, has a very real chance of travelling.

Against that backdrop, the efforts of the Wales back row were even more laudable. A couple of times they were offered gifts, such as the time when England, 12 metres from the Wales line, left the ball lying clear of the ruck for anyone to pick up, which Lydiate did. Wales did not need such offerings but in a month's time they will be glad of anything South Africa, their first pool opponents, give them.

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