Wales offer Henson another last chance

 

Gavin Henson has yet another chance to stake his claim for Wales despite having made only nine first-class starting appearances in almost three years and having been dropped from this weekend's Heineken Cup decider by the Blues. Warren Gatland warned, however, that if the utility back "is not up to speed" he will not appear in the final Six Nations squad.

Gatland named Henson in the 35-strong party who will take part in the training camp in Poland next week, which will ape the preparations for last year's World Cup. The shrewd Kiwi did so anticipating the resulting hype. "You do ask yourself if it is worth the hassle of selecting Gavin because of the interest and speculation you get from the media," said Gatland. But he is a long-time admirer of Henson and pointed to his contribution to the 2008 Grand Slam.

Nevertheless, Henson – who turns 30 in a fortnight – has only played three times for the Blues this season, after recovering from a wrist injury which kept him out the World Cup, and finds himself dumped from the Blues match-day 22 who will take on Racing Metro on Sunday.

After an unconvincing showing at No 12 last Saturday at London Irish, the words of Gareth Baber, the Blues coach, hardly inspires great hope of an imminent international return. While praising Henson for his professionalism since linking up with the region in November, Baber outlined his doubts. "He is probably not where I suppose the public and yourself want him to be," he told journalists. "He's had a while out of the game."

But Gatland remains committed to Henson, although the chances of him starting against Ireland in the Six Nations open two weeks on Sunday seem remote. "Centre is one of the positions we have depth," he said. "There was a long debate about Gavin: he was not the first name on our sheet, given the way we went in the midfield in the World Cup, but we will look at him because of his past reputation and sit down with him and see where his head is at. When he has been in our environment before, his attitude has always been spot on. But if he is not up to speed, he will not be selected further."

Gatland was clearly dismayed that his call-up of the Blues' Harry Robinson was being overshadowed by Henson. The 18-year-old wing has played only two senior matches.

Following George North's remarkably rapid rise to prominence the rugby world will be wary of the latest Welsh wonder kid. Gatland certainly did not talk Robinson down, although it would be a huge surprise if he makes the pared-down squad. "Harry is a bit like Jason Robinson in the way he darts around," said Gatland, who found no place for the veteran fly-half, Stephen Jones.

Gatland is aware of the challenge awaiting them in Dublin on the opening weekend. The Welsh squad head to the rigours of the Spala in Poland, aware the sessions will be intense regardless of their advancement to the World Cup semi-finals at the expense of Declan Kidney's side. "Ireland will go into the Six Nations with a lot of confidence," said Gatland, a former Irish coach. "Ulster's victory over Leicester last Friday was stunning. There will be a backlash because of the comprehensive victory we had over Ireland in the World Cup. Knowing the Irish as I do, they will be intent on revenge."

* It looks as though England winger Chris Ashton has reached a parting of the ways with Northampton after he reportedly stormed out of training this week following a heated argument with the club's director of rugby, Jim Mallinder. Ashton is set to be left out of the Saints' squad for the vital Heineken Cup home game against Munster on Saturday and it appears likely he has played his last game for the club. Northampton have been concerned with Ashton's attitude since he returned from the World Cup in the autumn and the 24-year-old, who started his career in rugby league with Wigan, has long been linked a move to Saracens. That transfer could now be completed as soon as next week.

Wales squad

Backs Mike Phillips, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Webb, Rhys Priestland, James Hook, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Gavin Henson, Ashley Beck, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Harry Robinson, Liam Williams, Lee Byrne.

Forwards Craig Mitchell, Adam Jones, Ryan Bevington, Gethin Jenkins, Paul James, Rhys Gill, Rhodri Jones, Matthew Rees, Huw Bennett, Ken Owens, Bradley Davies, Ian Evans, Lou Reed, Ryan Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau, Andy Powell.

Gatland looks for year's leave to lead Lions

Warren Gatland stated his desire yesterday to lead the British Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia and claimed that his employers at the Welsh Rugby Union would not stand in his way, despite the necessity for him to be released for a year from his coaching duties.

Gatland was an assistant to Sir Ian McGeechan on the 2009 tour of South Africa and having been such an influence in that tour, which culminated in an agonising 2-1 loss in the Test series, the New Zealander is keen to go one better in Australia. He said: "2009 was a huge honour and if that opportunity came along again it would be fantastic."

Gatland is the front-runner for the Lions job and his obvious rivals are his counterparts with Ireland and Scotland, Declan Kidney and Andy Robinson. Whoever is named, probably in April, will have to square the appointment with his home union. Andy Irvine, the 2013 tour manager, has said that the head coach will be required "to be available effectively a year out".

That means Gatland would be ruled out of involvement in the November Tests and the 2013 Six Nations. He signed a contract extension last year, to take him up to the 2015 World Cup, and it is understood that this includes only a five-month break clause for him to be involved with the Lions.

Asked if the WRU would accept a far longer release, Gatland said:"I don't think there would be any negative hindrance."

James Corrigan

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss