Henson off the pace but keeps place in Wales squad

Wales 28 Barbarians 31: Celebrity centre struggles in defeat by invitation team but is named in World Cup training party
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The Independent Online

A bits-and-pieces fixture that did not even come close to meriting the full-cap status accorded it, nonsensically, by the Welsh Rugby Union was saved from petering into nothingness by the gloriously gifted Barbarian captain, Sergio Parisse, and a cameo show by the gargantuanToulon centre Willie Mason.

Having beaten even more of a shadow England side 38-32 the previous Sunday, the Baa-Baas prepared in time-honoured fashion: the bare minimum in tactical run-arounds and plenty of rounds at the bar. "I'll need a toxicology report on Monday to make sure I'm OK," joked their assistant coach, Scott Johnson – in his day job with the Ospreys the Australian has relations with his Wales counterpart, Warren Gatland, that are nothing like as jovial.

At least Gatland now has a clear run to the World Cup – give or take the odd spat over the release of his English-based players – and last night he announced a 45-man training party that included all 22 players from this match, including Gavin Henson. The squad must be trimmed to 30 by the deadline of 22 August, before which Wales have two training camps in Poland and friendlies with England, twice, and Argentina.

You'll want to know how Henson got on, of course. Won't you? Those who bought tickets appeared ambivalent towards the celebrity centre, neither cheering or jeering him too loudly more than two years after his last Test, against Ireland here.

In between times Henson has been injured and uninterested and paying the bills by appearing on television programmes: ballroom dancing, trekking to the North Pole or taking 750,000 volts to his head as a scientific lab rat. Dogged by the ailments that have blighted the 10 years since his Wales debut in June 2001, he has made a sketchy four appearances for Saracens and three for Toulon. He looked just as you would expect him to look: enthused on a superficial level, extremely tanned and still a long-odds bet to take part in his first World Cup at the age of 29.

It was Henson's pass, though it was surely forward, that sent George North (10 years his junior, and currently a more authentic star) in for the first try of four for Wales and five for the Barbarians. There were two tackles by Henson on Mathieu Bastareaud, both when the Frenchman – one of three huge centres deployed by the Baa-Baas – was fairly static. The second helped stifle an attack on halfway and perhaps forced the pass by Paul Tito that was intercepted by Wales's full-back, Morgan Stoddart, for a 50-metre run-in and a 14-12 lead after 24 minutes. This after Baa-Baas tries by Joe Tekori and Isa Nacewa.

Otherwise, Henson kicked in the air to no effect and put through three misdirected grubbers. He said: "I am very proud today, getting back into that Welsh jersey, but I am bitterly disappointed with my performance. There were some bad decisions I made." As Johnson, Wales's skills coach when Henson's huge kick beat England in 2005, put it: "He hasn't played a lot of rugby and it's not the old Gavin. But he can get back there."

The home scrum-half, Mike Phillips, lashed out with a boot at Carl Hayman in a bad-tempered display at odds with the feting of Stephen Jones on the occasion of him joining Gareth Thomas on 100 Wales caps. There was a lot of quality missing, including the likely World Cup captain, Matthew Rees, Bradley Davies, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook (who was getting married), Lee Byrne, Adam Jones, Jonathan Thomas and Shane Williams. In an interesting back-row selection for the training squad, Andy Powell was named alongside Gareth Delve of the Melbourne Rebels and Martyn Williams, a Barbarian here.

That all left two Test debutants, Toby Faletau and Ryan Bevington, in Wales's starting XV, and three on the bench. Bevington had a hard afternoon in the scrum; Parisse scored straight from a set-piece, shrugging off Stoddart for the final try of the first half and a 19-14 lead. Short-range scores by Phillips and Aled Brew, converted by Jones after 53 and 64 minutes, had Wales 28-19 up, but though Henson's withdrawal quickened their attack they also lost cohesion. Mason's offloads helped make decisive Baa-Baas tries for Bastareaud and Nacewa.

Wales M Stoddart; G North, J Davies (all Scarlets), G Henson (unattached), A Brew (Dragons); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips; R Bevington, H Bennett, P James, R Jones (all Ospreys), L Charteris, D Lydiate, T Faletau (all Dragons), S Warburton (Blues, capt). Replacements L Burns (Dragons) for Bennett, 64; S Andrews (Blues) for Bevington, 61; AW Jones (Ospreys) for R Jones, 61; J Turnbull (Scarlets) for Lydiate, 64; T Knoyle (Scarlets) for Phillips, 61; R Priestland (Scarlets) for S Jones, 66; S Williams (Scarlets) for Henson, 61.

Barbarians I Nacewa (Leinster & Fiji); P Sackey (Toulon & England), S Rabeni (La Rochelle & Fiji), M Bastareaud (Stade Français & France), D Howlett (Munster & New Zealand); B James (Clermont Auvergne), S Tillous-Borde (Castres & France); I Thomas (Scarlets & Wales), S Bruno (Toulon & France), C Hayman (Toulon & New Zealand), I Tekori (Castres & Samoa), P Tito (Blues), J van Niekerk (Toulon & South Africa), S Parisse (Stade Français & Italy, capt), M Williams (Blues & Wales). Replacements L Ghiraldini (Treviso & Italy) for Bruno, 55; D Kubriashvili (Toulon & Georgia) for Hayman, 64; E Lund (Biarritz & Norway) for Tito, 56; G Smith (Toulon & Australia) for M Williams, 55; L Williams (Blues) for Tillous-Borde, 64; W Mason (Toulon) for Bastareaud, 64; B Baby (Clermont & France) for Sackey, 61.

Referee A Rolland (Ireland).


Tries: North, Stoddart, Phillips, Brew

Cons: S Jones 4


Tries: Tekori, Nacewa 2, Parisse, Bastareaud

Cons: James 3