James Lawton: Henson lacks defining quality of a star – belief
Wednesday 27 October 2010
As Gavin Henson considers swapping the sequins of Strictly Come Dancing for the red star and crescent moon of the Saracens rugby club, and a possible return to the international fields he was born to inhabit, we can only deplore again some of nature's more slipshod habits.
Imagine, for example, if along with his beautiful gifts of athleticism Henson had been given just a little of the forceful character of his erstwhile partner, and mother of his children, Charlotte Church.
Feisty, after all, isn't in it with the Cardiff diva. She has more front than Porthcawl. You wouldn't back anyone to separate her from who she believes she is and what she represents. She lends herself to intimidation no more than Mike Tyson used to invite carefree badinage before a serious sparring session.
But then when she spoke wistfully of her "Gav" this week while promoting her latest, and self-financed, album, you were reminded again of her essential appeal ... and the crucial element so far missing in the failed brilliance of her former partner's career.
It is the quality that bequeaths genuine stardom. It is the force of belief.
One of the more poignant aspects of Henson's situation is that at 28 he is a year older than his compatriot Barry John, arguably the greatest rugby player of them all, when he turned his back on the game a year after being crowned King John during a mesmerising tour of New Zealand.
The comparison is savage because, psychologically, John was everything that Henson isn't – or ever likely to be. When he attended his first Welsh team session, John was asked by the older, and firmly established, Gareth Edwards how he would like the ball to be delivered, long or short. "You throw it, Gareth, I'll catch it," said the luminous neophyte.
Henson was never going to dull the memory of John's genius but if he had showed, say five years ago, some of that self-confidence, the idea that he would be tentatively reconsidering a return to the game in 2010 would have been incredible.
In 2005 he had a passionate rugby nation in his thrall. He was man of the match when the English were beaten and he landed a 48-metre penalty in the last moments. He had nerves of steel then, if not the deepest ambition.
As late as the spring of last year Warren Gatland, the Welsh coach and assistant of the 2009 Lions in South Africa, was attempting to keep the door open for a reluctant protégé. He asked him to tour with Wales to keep alive a chance to make an impact with the Lions which was denied him four years earlier in New Zealand.
Henson's mind and heart wasn't in it and now you have to wonder how deeply committed he is to possibly his last chance of exploiting gifts for which so many of his peers would give so much.
You worry about him in the same way you do Danny Cipriani, England's most naturally gifted player, who has been obliged to seek a new start in Australia.
Both should now be immense figures in a game that craves authentic class and glamour. Maybe it would have been so if Cipriani hadn't seen the celebrity life as such a lure – and Henson had had a better idea of his own strength.
When you see the great Barry John now he admits he left too soon. "I thought I had seen everything, done everything, but it wasn't true. I suppose it never is," he says. The hope now is that Gavin Henson has looked beyond the sequins and seen the haunting truth.
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