Toulon grant Henson reprieve but warn this is his last chance
Tuesday 03 May 2011
Gavin Henson, the celebrity centre from Wales who has become far more famous for the things he does off the field than for the deeds he performs on it, is still a Toulon player.
The fact that he is still a rugby player of any description might be considered a shock in light of his interesting approach to the sport over the last couple of years, but yesterday's announcement by the Cote d'Azur club was enough of a surprise to be going on with, given the furore surrounding the aftermath of last month's momentous Top 14 victory over Toulouse.
In the hours following that victory in Marseilles on 16 April, the 29-year-old Lions midfielder fell into an argument with clubmates – apparently after making remarks about two senior international colleagues, the England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson and the Springbok forward Joe van Niekerk – that quickly deteriorated into a fight.
Henson was suspended by the Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal for failing to abide by the club's code of conduct, and was widely reported to have been sacked. Yet at no point did Boudjellal, who signed the Welshman on a short-term contract earlier this year, confirm that any such action had been taken. Rather, he waited until last Wednesday to discuss the issue with Henson and spent four days mulling over his decision. Yesterday, the owner said Henson had been reprieved, and would stay with the team for the remainder of their domestic campaign – a minimum of one match, a maximum of four.
Not that Boudjellal gave any indication that Henson would be granted his wish of a long-term contract for next season and beyond. Still a live contender for the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand – the Wales boss Warren Gatland is one of those increasingly rare coaches who considers the player to be less trouble than he is worth – his value to Toulon will diminish sharply if selected. Henson and Gatland are due to meet this month to talk things through.
"I consulted my staff, I consulted the group and I decided to return Henson to the line-up," Boudjellal said. "The group is ready to forget the evening [in Marseilles] and to make a new start. He trained at the weekend and could be in the team for our match in Montpellier this weekend. We are clear that we're not giving him a second chance, but a final chance. He knows that at the next incident, there won't be any warning shots before the trigger is pulled."
Henson has been shooting himself in both feet – rugby-wise, at least – for some time. Since his last international appearance in March 2009, he has taken a long period of unpaid leave from his home club, the Swansea-based Ospreys regional team, and angered them by making a competitive comeback with Saracens.
His stay in Watford was brief, mercifully so for the Premiership side, who found him to be semi-interested at best. Then came the offer from Toulon, for whom he played precisely 157 minutes before getting himself banned. Now he has been reinstated, he will be expected to reward Boudjellal for his leniency.
Steve Thompson, the World Cup-winning England hooker who reappeared in Premiership rugby last September after a spell across the water with Brive, will leave Leeds, the relegation favourites, for Wasps after this week's final round of league matches.
"Much as it has been a difficult season for Leeds on the pitch, I am very grateful that they gave me the opportunity to return," he said. "However, I've been really impressed with some of the young players at Wasps and I'm looking forward to being part of a team aiming to get back to the top of their game."
Thompson initially moved to France as a fledgling coach after calling time on his playing career because of persistent neck trouble, but took fresh medical advice in Brive, decided to resume and regained his England place in 2009.
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