'Henson may never play again'

Former coach says Ospreys star should be given time to consider his future in game
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The Independent Online

The strange case of Gavin Henson, which is growing more peculiar with each contradictory bulletin from the high-profile patch of Welsh rugby territory known as Ospreylia, took another twist yesterday when his former coach, Lyn Jones, suggested the celebrity centre might be lost to the game for good at 27.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he never plays again," said Jones, whose own career at Ospreys hit the buffers a couple of seasons ago.

Henson has been granted indefinite leave from the regional team, ostensibly to allow him to sort out persistent problems of the orthopedic variety but also, it seems certain, to let him decide whether he still has any desire to pursue a career in professional union.

Two weekends ago, he posted a statement on his website declaring that he would be back in an Ospreys shirt "before too long". Last weekend, it emerged that he was no longer being paid by the club, with Sean Holley, the head coach, admitting he had no clear idea what was happening in the "Gav" department.

Jones, one of the very few coaches who understood how to drag something approaching the best out of Henson, was suitably sympathetic as he wondered aloud over the player's plight.

"I'd like to think he'll put the boots on again and perform at the highest level," he said in an interview with the BBC. "Rugby needs him. But he has been a different player since 2005 [ the year of his unhappy tour with the British and Irish Lions under Sir Clive Woodward] and other things have come into his life.

"It's always disappointing to hear that a player is taking a break from the game. When I first met Gavin in 2003, rugby was the first, second and third priority in his life and he was desperately keen to play in every single match. Not only was he keen to play, he was by far the most influential rugby player in Britain.

"For the Ospreys, he scored tries, kicked goals and made breaks. I think he has a future in the game, but he's had a tough four years and it is important that Ospreys give him time to think about what he wants to do next.

"I hope he raises enough interest to come back. He has an amazing talent, and you're a long time out of rugby once you give it up."

While Henson works out whether the endless fight with knee and Achilles tendon injuries is worth the hassle, and whether life with his successful partner, the singer Charlotte Church, with whom he has two children, might be more straightforward without rugby, Wales look extremely healthy in all the positions the prodigal Osprey once filled at international level.

It is difficult to imagine him challenging Lee Byrne at full-back or Stephen Jones and James Hook at outside-half, and to judge by the way the brilliant Jamie Roberts performed at inside centre for the Lions in South Africa in June, there is not much of an opening there either.

England should be watching developments with a keen interest. They have a Henson situation of their own in Danny Cipriani – a wonderful playmaking talent and top-of-the-range goal-kicker who has similar issues with injury and celebrity, and the last thing they need is for the Wasps outside-half to disappear into an impenetrable fog of frustration and disillusionment.

The world champions, South Africa, have lost their first-choice wing J P Pietersen and their squad lock Andries Bekker for the remainder of the Tri-Nations Championship, which they are leading comfortably ahead of this weekend's meeting with Australia in Brisbane.

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