Unrepentant Henson plays it by the book

"I've been a marked man since I was 18, either because of my hairstyle or the things I've said in the newspapers, so I don't think this will make much difference," said the 23-year-old midfielder, who kicked England to defeat in last year's Six Nations Championship and went on to share in a first Welsh Grand Slam for more than a quarter of a century before going missing - quite literally, according to some of his colleagues - when things went wrong for him on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. "It was an amazing season of highs and lows and the book is an honest description of how I felt during the course of it. I'm an honest person."

Henson has found himself absorbing torrents of criticism from players, coaches, administrators and pundits alike, all of whom object to his barefaced cheek in openly criticising fellow professionals while barely out of kindergarten in terms of international rugby.

Only yesterday, Steve Hansen, who coached him during his stewardship of the Red Dragonhood and is preparing to return to Wales as assistant coach of the All Blacks, gave him a piece of his mind, having heard of the controversy on the other side of the world.

"Gavin is his own man and he'll do things his way whether they're right or wrong, so he'll have enough on his plate without me adding any comments," he said diplomatically, before warming to the theme and letting rip. "I don't think anyone who has a passion for rugby enjoys seeing people rubbish the game and those involved in it," he continued. "The more negative things there are in these books, the harder it is to get people, including sponsors, interested in the game. It's difficult enough trying to pay the bills for professional rugby as it is."

As far as Henson was concerned, it was water off a duck's back. The New Zealander rarely picked him anyway. Having met senior figures in the Welsh hierarchy during the morning - the chief executive, David Moffett, was among those who quizzed him on the wisdom of his literary flirtation - the player appeared serenely indifferent to the criticism. "HarperCollins [the publishers] are loving it at the moment," he said with a grin. "Actually, David asked me to sign his copy of the book, which was nice."

There was more. Plenty more. "I've had no sleepless nights over this - I'm pretty thick-skinned," he went on. "I hope the book is refreshing. I try to make rugby exciting and I do get bored when I hear players say the same old stuff in interviews. David Campese wasn't afraid of making the odd comment here and there, and he was good for rugby, wasn't he? The only thing that would disappoint me was if the supporters were upset by the book, because they're what I'm about at the end of the day. All I try to do is excite them, offer them something different."

Henson rejected the widespread assertion that he is not a "team player" - "I tend not to mix with work people after work because I prefer to spend time with my friends and I don't feel comfortable in team meetings, but I'm a good listener and I feel I contribute as much as anyone in training and during matches," he responded - and spurned the notion that those he accuses of various acts of skulduggery, from the Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll to his Wales colleague Martyn Williams, will find his lack of professional solidarity unforgivable.

"They're the nicest people off the field," he said. "I simply wanted to give the public an insight into how competitive they are on it."

Meanwhile, the All Blacks' coaching staff were in serious mood as they looked ahead to their Grand Slam tour of the British Isles, which begins with a Test against Wales on Saturday week.

"We know how difficult it will be to achieve a Slam," acknowledged Wayne Smith, the back-line strategist. "I played here in 1983, directly after a Lions series in our own country that we won fairly convincingly, and what happened? We drew with Scotland and lost to England. There's a realisation here that this will be pretty bloody tough.

"The individual nations tend to play with a ferocity and a sense of patriotism that goes beyond the levels the Lions tend to achieve. I'm sure Clive Woodward and his coaching team put in a lot of hard work on that particular aspect, but emotions are hard to manufacture. They have to be bone deep, as they are when a player takes the field for his country."

Smith confirmed that Daniel Carter, the Canterbury outside-half who played such an eye-catching role in dismantling the Lions last June, had fully recovered from his broken leg and was considered match-fit.

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