James Lawton: Lions need Wales hero to make point on the field not in tangle of Charlotte's web

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The Independent Online

In all the councils of war now required if the British and Irish Lions have any chance of getting out of here with their rugby lives not too profoundly scarred, one of them will ideally take the form of a tête-à-tête between Gavin Henson and his combustible girlfriend and songstress Charlotte Church.

In all the councils of war now required if the British and Irish Lions have any chance of getting out of here with their rugby lives not too profoundly scarred, one of them will ideally take the form of a tête-à-tête between Gavin Henson and his combustible girlfriend and songstress Charlotte Church.

The need for this is provoked by conflicting reports about the way the young celebrity couple have handled his exclusion from the gruesome first Test defeat inflicted by the All Blacks.

While the Lions coach, Sir Clive Woodward, insists that Henson has dealt with his disappointment in the best possible way, there are other suggestions that the 23-year-old Welsh centre of immense potential has conducted something close to a one-man eisteddfod of regret and bruised sensibilities.

The second picture is reflected by the groundswell of conjecture that provoked a television reporter to ask Woodward if it was true Henson was heading for the airport and a flight home - and the comment of one former and much admired Lion that the kind of petulance Henson had allegedly displayed would in the old days have earned him a judicious clip around the ear from one of his team-mates.

Unfortunately, these are not the old days. These are days when coaches like Sir Clive Woodward - and not to mention his football counterpart, Sven Goran Eriksson - have the almost daily chore of mopping up some of the more damaging effects of the celebrity culture.

Ms Church, a singer of beautiful timbre but sometimes blood-chillingly volcanic self-expression, is apparently never likely to serenade the coach who excluded her spiky-haired beau from what would have the greatest stage of his sporting life in Christchurch last Saturday.

For his part, some claim that Henson now has the unofficial world record for slamming doors without quite detaching them from their hinges. To be fair to the threequarter who was voted the world's best young player a few years ago, was a potent source of inspiration for Wales' Grand Slam this last season, and in the opinion of most detached judges should really have walked into the Test team, he has apparently not burst into tears or broken the furniture, something which Paul Gascoigne couldn't say after he was told by the England football coach, Glenn Hoddle, that he had been cut from the 1998 World Cup squad.

No, the worst charge against Gavin, and Charlotte, is that they may just have the potential - as one literary minded rugger man put it the other day - to make David and Posh look like characters from Evelyn Waugh's acid study of English manners, Brideshead Revisited.

If there is anything to this lurid fear, the old Lion has a solemn duty to resurrect briefly that time-honoured fashion in enforcing team discipline and personal responsibility.

There is no denying that Henson has suffered a savage disappointment. It happens quite frequently in real life. What he also has, he and his ladyfriend should remember, is a perfectly shaped opportunity to prove Woodward wrong and confirm his own reputation as a possible rugby player of the ages.

He went in this direction somewhat by running in two tries in the "dirt-tracker" game that came in the wake of Woodward's controversial first Test squad selection. Now with the Lions captain, Brian O'Driscoll - arguably the most talented player in all of the game - out of the tour, the idea of Henson's continued exclusion is almost unthinkable. His challenge is in nerve and a mature sense of the world.

Though it is not the least provocative thing you could say to any Welshman, and least of all the one who had his Test place whipped away so shockingly, there is no doubt something to learn from Jonny Wilkinson in all of this.

Wilkinson may be currently living on past deeds out on the field - though no one could question his courage and resolution in the tackle in what was plainly the most utterly lost of causes on Saturday - but his demeanour, in all situations, remains quite magnificent. Petulance in Wilkinson would not be so much a surprise as an abomination. Since the highwater mark of his success 18 months ago while winning the World Cup, he has been trapped in currents of dismay. He has been tortured by a succession of injuries and spiralling doubts about his future.

It is also easily forgotten that before his ultimate triumph in Sydney, many serious questions were shaped against his ability to fashion victory at outside-half. But he did the job in his own way; he dwarfed the limitations that can never be ignored in any rounded view of a great player's talent. But most of all he showed his awareness that in sport, like life, there are going to be the bad days, when you are confronted by the basic choice of getting on with the job, doing the best you can, or crying foul, or injustice, or grabbing at any other self-massaging emotion or thought that comes to your heart or your head.

Wilkinson is unchanging in his acceptance of the demands and the disappointments of the sporting life lived at the highest level. Whether or not he deserves to keep his place in the Test team is much less of a debate now that O'Driscoll is gone and that from the Lions perspective if there is one warming memory from Christchurch it is of Wilkinson trying so hard to staunch the flow of All Black brilliance.

At 23 Henson still has his rugby life before him. That it can still be a glory of a game to which he brings so many formidable attributes is something he cannot lose sight of as his gels his hair and considers life's vicissitudes with the songbird Charlotte, who is perhaps a rather stormier item than Dylan Thomas's virtuoso of the Christmas carols, Aunt Hannah, with her chest bursting like that of a thrush.

It is said, though, that Charlotte's chest has near burst with indignation when she has considered the injustice inflicted on her boyfriend. She, and Gavin, should let it rest. There is, after all, still everything to play for.

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