Eddie Jones: Get well soon, Gavin – the Lions need you

Calling The Shots
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The Independent Online

Unfortunately, there was a serious negative as far as the British and Irish Lions were concerned, and that was the ankle injury suffered by Gavin Henson during the Ospreys v Gloucester tie. If Henson is forced out of the forthcoming tour of South Africa, he will be badly missed.

I suspect there are as many contrasting views about this particular player as there are people to hold them but, to my mind, he is a high-class operator. Indeed, the Welshman is everything a coach wants in an inside centre – he is big and powerful, carries the ball well, has footwork, can kick miles and can tackle – and by way of extras, he can do a turn at full-back when required. The only thing you question is where his head is. If his attitude is good and he is in the right zone, Henson is a major asset.

It appears he will be out of the game for six weeks and, unsurprisingly, he is pretty down about it. But the timing is not entirely hopeless. I know Ian McGeechan, the Lions head coach, is adamant that he will not take injured players on tour, but that is not quite the same as taking players who aren't match fit. If Henson is back on his feet and running well by the middle of next month, I'd go with him. The Lions have half a dozen matches before the opening Test against the Springboks, so he would have plenty of opportunity to recapture that crucial sharpness that comes with playing regular rugby. It would not be as if Ian had given a plane ticket to a bloke in the vague hope that he might come up trumps by the time the serious contests arrive.

For a number of reasons, I hope things turn out well for Henson. I know he has this reputation as a "problem player", and I cannot pretend that his celebrity lifestyle doesn't raise the odd issue here and there. But I detect a lot of good in him: he likes to enjoy himself and frequently does so in the company of his colleagues, which suggests a degree of popularity. The trick is to find his positive side and channel it to the benefit of the team. Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards did that successfully when Wales won the Grand Slam last year and, with their good cop-bad cop routine, could do so again with the Lions. (There are no prizes for guessing the identity of the bad cop!) More than anything, I would like to see Henson tour because a match-up between him and Francois Steyn would be one for the connoisseur. The two men have things in common: Steyn is a midfielder of vast potential who, like Henson, brings a wide range of skills to the table as well as a fluctuating temperament (albeit one that fluctuates for different reasons). He is every bit as precocious as Henson was a few seasons back, every bit as confident in his own ability to make a difference on the big occasion under the most intense pressure. If the two of them go toe to toe this summer, it will be compulsive viewing.

Talking of which, I think next season's rugby will make for better watching after this week's decision to reject the most damaging of the Experimental Law Variations. Common sense has prevailed, thankfully, but this does not for a moment mean that the IRB's judgement in all of this should go unquestioned. The process has been a monumental failure, driven forward by people who no longer operate at rugby's business end, against the firm advice of those of us who saw the pitfalls right from the start.

Union is an old sport, but a very young professional game. If you force through changes that don't improve it, you run the danger of setting it back years. Many of us knew that the majority of the ELVs were outdated even before they were introduced, but too few administrators chose to listen. The lesson? Don't tamper with the laws without a hands-on input from people directly involved at the high end. It seems obvious enough, but sometimes, those in authority don't do obvious.