Wales hand Henson a World Cup lifeline

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The Independent Online

The last time Gavin Henson was seen wearing a Wales shirt, he was modelling it rather than playing in it – and a fat lot of good that little stunt did for team harmony in the land of the Red Dragon. Jamie Roberts, the celebrity centre's fellow midfielder, wondered aloud if this amounted to "an insult to current Wales internationals", and as Henson was more interested in the ballroom than the dressing room at that precise juncture, he had every right to ask the question.

This weekend, the great lost talent of Welsh rugby will attempt to square things with his colleagues by fronting up against the Barbarians. He will be rewarded with a cap – the governing body's decision to plaster Henson's features all over the Millennium Stadium last September as a means of maximising publicity for their kit launch was by no means the limit of their commercial opportunism – and if he turns in anything approaching a half-decent performance, he will put himself in pole position for a World Cup place in New Zealand later this year.

"It's an opportunity for Gavin to do his talking on the pitch," said the Wales coach Warren Gatland, uncomfortably aware that when Henson (right) expressed his views on the subject of rugby in France a few weeks ago, he fell out so badly with his clubmates in Toulon that he ended up fighting with them. "We have Andrew Bishop, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and now Scott Williams, but we need depth. We hope he does well and puts some pressure on the established guys. He tells us it's fantastic to be back in this environment, that he has really missed it, that he's loving his rugby at the moment. It's a real positive for us."

Stephen Jones, the revered outside-half who might be described as Henson's polar opposite – loyalty, dedication, a heightened sense of teamship and complete professionalism are his characteristics – will win his 100th Wales cap, to go with those awarded him by the Lions in 2005 and 2009. It is an achievement to be reckoned with, despite well-placed doubts over the fixture's status. How much better would it have been for him had he reached the landmark in a full-on meeting with England, or France, or South Africa? Infinitely. But if he deserves better, he will also deserve every last cheer he receives on Saturday afternoon.