Henson well off the pace as World Cup cull begins

Wales 28 Barbarians 31
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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland was quite enthusiastic about the comeback of Gavin Henson last autumn, but the passing months have seen the centre make only eight appearances – including this first for Wales in more than two years – and the head coach's desire has dimmed. "It's a little frustrating only ever answering questions about Gavin," said Gatland after Saturday's match in Cardiff ridiculously awarded full-cap status by the Welsh Rugby Union, whose moral compass is at least as wayward as any media fixation with the perma-tanned one. Gatland might be more effusive about Henson if the centre was on a run of matches and steaming towards World Cup selection at full pelt.

No modern player has been through a career like Henson's, on and off the field. Hence the interest. For a multitude of reasons - injury, principally - this was his 32nd Test of a possible 122 in the 10 years since his debut in June 2001. As one of four nominated centres alongside Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Andrew Bishop in the 45-man summer training squad named by Gatland on Saturday night, Henson has a chance of reaching his first World Cup at the third attempt. But there are others in the squad - including James Hook, Jason Tovey, Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams - who, like Henson, are versatile.

Gatland must trim the 45 to 30 by 22 August. All 22 Wales players from this match were included, plus the 35-year-old Martyn Williams from the Baa-baas, while Gareth Delve also won a recall. On the flipside, Dwayne Peel may need a special release from his Sale contract to train with the rest next month, before August friendlies with England, twice, and Argentina.

Mike Phillips, who has not started for Ospreys for five months as he seeks a move, was almost as off the pace as Henson against the Baa-baas, who scored five tries to four including the last-minute belter and clincher by Isa Nacewa. In the scrum, Carl Hayman gave Ryan Bevington - one of five Wales debutants who helped Stephen Jones celebrate his century of Wales caps - an hour's stiff tutorial. Individual flourishes by Sergio Parisse, George Smith, Joe van Niekerk and Willie Mason just about gave the WRU the lustre they sought for their 130th-anniversary fixture.


Wales: Tries North, Stoddart, Phillips, Brew; Conversions S Jones 4.

Barbarians: Tries Tekori, Nacewa, Parisse, Bastareaud, Nacewa; Cons James 3.