Injury blow for Gavin Henson

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The Independent Online

Gavin Henson's hopes of beginning his Test match comeback against world champions South Africa tomorrow have been dashed by injury.

The Ospreys centre had been selected for a first Wales start since last season's RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam-clinching victory over France in Cardiff.

But following a week of limited training the 26-year-old's withdrawal was announced after Wales completed preparations at the Millennium Stadium.

Barely 30 minutes earlier though, Wales attack coach Rob Howley had delivered an upbeat verdict on Henson's prospects during a pre-match press conference.

Howley spoke about the Wales camp being "comfortable" with Henson's situation and about wanting him "fired up" to face the Springboks.

While the media session continued though - and oblivious to Howley - Henson's withdrawal due to a long-standing Achilles' problem was being confirmed in another part of the stadium.

He will be replaced by Cardiff Blues' Tom Shanklin, who wins his 55th cap, with Shanklin's Blues colleague Jamie Roberts moving from outside to inside centre and Ospreys' Andrew Bishop joining the bench.

Henson's Ospreys colleague Bishop, 23, made his solitary Test appearance against South Africa during the summer.

Henson, meanwhile, had taken a reduced role in training this week, and he watched Wales' final run-out from the touchline in conversation with Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis.

"We wanted to give Gavin the best opportunity to be available to play against South Africa," Howley said. "Gavin decided to tell us he felt, mentally and physically, that he wasn't going to be ready for the game. We wanted to leave the decision down to Gavin. We feel he is a mature person, and we were comfortable without him training on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon this week.

"Gavin is a player who has huge respect from the squad, and he is mature enough to make that decision. He aggravated the injury against London Irish last Sunday. The players want to be 100 per cent, and Gavin feels he is not 100 per cent.

"We are very fortunate to be able to bring Tom Shanklin in, and we are looking forward to the combination of Tom and Jamie playing.

"I don't think we are weakened at all. Tom was part of our successful Grand Slam campaign, and was one of our best defenders.

"He will pose different types of questions for South Africa."

As for the game itself, Howley wants Wales to be "innovative" and "smart".

He added: "We need to bring our A game to the table tomorrow. Al players need to bring their A games, and we need to play as a unit."

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