The silver boot that kicked a nation into dreamland
Sunday 06 February 2005
Warning to Welsh mothers everywhere: hide your hairspray, lock up your sunbed and take the batteries out of that Braun Ladyshave. From this day forth, your son is going to be after them. Indeed, your husband is going to be after them. In fact, your own father is going to be after them.
They will all be desperate to have a "Henson" after the Chosen One became the Anointed One with a kick that sent him soaring deep into Welsh folklore. But is there really any need for anyone with the Three Feathers close to their heart to resort to such measures to emulate a look that Gavin Henson himself can so instantly effect with one swing of that blessed silver boot of his.
If anyone can make hair stand on end it's this boy. Need a bit of colour in those pale cheeks of yours? No problem, just watch Henson kick a ball. And you can't live without legs as smoothly shaven as Gavin's happen to be? Fear not, the goosebumps that will be raised when this centre cuts loose would make even the most belligerent whisker run for cover. Hey presto - there you have the perfect "Henson". Who needs hairspray, sunbeds or ladyshaves? (Apart from Bonnie Tyler, of course.)
True, there might have been other match-winners for Wales yesterday - most heroically, of course, every member of a pack that everyone but themselves had considered vastly inferior - but still the class of this most mature of 23-year-olds shone through like a beacon on the Brecons. Every time England looked like nudging their way back into affairs, it was Henson who shook them down and pointed them back on the road to the promised land.
Poor Mathew Tait, meanwhile, was pointed towards Australia by Henson - by the shortest route, straight through the very core of the earth - with two tackles that crunched so loudly that the echo can still be heard even now in far-flung corners of the Millennium Stadium. Henson himself was introduced to the international scene as a teenager, way back in 2001, although his first taste was the more palatable one of the Japanese than a rampant Welsh team intent on maximum destruction.
Many considered that debut too early for Henson and yesterday he was determined to show Andy Robinson the error of his premature ways, reducing the Falcons' 18-year-old to a quivering wreck, first in the 16th minute with a shockingly memorable "Welcome to international rugby" and then once again in the 46th minute with a copycat piece of legalised violence that even drew "oohs" and "ahhs" from the Welsh contingent. Not long after Tait was withdrawn, shaking his head at the ferocity of it all. Nobody had told him of Henson's grip of steel, but this player just keeps on surprising.
Everybody knew all about that boot of his - adorned in the shiniest silver yesterday - and twice in the first half Henson sent the ball spiralling towards the roof with pinpoint accuracy, a full 60 metres before landing it on the money side of the touchline. There was a sniff of his running skills, too, on the half-hour when he compounded Tait's miserable afternoon by taking the Geordie boy on the outside before dancing into the 22 with the tryline beckoning until a desperate ankle tap brought him down.
But this day was to be all about the flash of silver and a kick that will be played a thousand times in every Welsh household. When the referee Steve Walsh threw his hand up in the 75th minute to signify a penalty to Wales on the touchline some 45 metres away the whisper went round, "Henson, Henson, Henson".
Stephen Jones had a peek, but even he knew that destiny was calling the boy from Bridgend. Hands were put over eyes as he swang that boot, but if anyone else was doubting him, Henson wasn't. It flew straight and true with a stroke that would have made Ernie Els wince at the ease of it. And over it went. Wales were in heaven. Henson was securely on a throne that is now his for a generation.
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