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The fake tan, the styled hair and the silver boots make Gavin Henson one of the most recognisable faces in Rugby. Even to those with little or no interest in the sport, the name Gavin Henson is one that is recognisable to most. But today, Welsh rugby’s ‘playboy’ has hit a new low in his professional career after being sacked by the Cardiff Blues for his behaviour on their flight home following their 31-3 defeat at Glasgow. Where does the former pin-up of Welsh rugby go from here?
It signals the end of a rollercoaster 18 months in rugby terms for the Pencoed born player. In that time he has been the employee of no less than 4 clubs in Wales, France and England. After a series of injuries and limited game time at the Ospreys, his contract was terminated by mutual consent. He went on to sign for Saracens, making his debut in their victory over London Wasps as Wembley. But following just four appearances for the club including just the one start, he was released in February of last year.
The South Coast of France would be his next destination, singing for big spending and ambitious Toulon. During his time at Saracens, he stated his frustrations at not being able to play at his preferred position at the Outside half. He was signed by Toulon as both their fly halves were out injured. After originally impressing, he was not offered a contract extension, with team manager Mourad Boudjellal citing Henson could be a problem to team morale following a bust up with key players from the squad.
After impressing in Wales’ defeat to the Barbarians and their training camp in Poland ahead of the World Cup, Henson signed for the Cardiff Blues in October 2011. He was unlucky not to make the World Cup after a dislocated wrist in Wales’ 19-9 victory over England in the World Cup warm ups. But the Welsh region saw enough in those performances to offer him a contract and it was hoped that Henson could begin to rebuild the reputation that saw him listed as one of Wales’ best talent’s at one point. Sadly this hasn’t been the case.
Of course this isn’t the first time Henson has been in trouble, on or off the field. Playing for Swansea aged just 20, with bleached white hair, he threw Llanelli’s Garan Evans into the advertising hoardings at Stradey Park, earning himself a red card and Swansea a humiliating 62-6 defeat against their most bitter rivals. In 2005, he released his controversial book My Grand Slam Year, in which he criticised Lions coach Clive Woodward as well as his fellow players. In 2007, alongside three other men, he was charged with disorderly conduct following his behaviour on a train back from London, but the case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to a lack of evidence.
Henson has become a household name following his high-profile relationship with the Welsh singer Charlotte Church. They split in 2010 after having two children together. The celebrity magazines and tabloids were printing stories on a frequent basis about the two. He’s also made appearances on three reality TV shows, appearing in endurance challenge 71 degrees North, a contestant in dancing show Strictly Come Dancing where he made it to the quarter finals and perhaps most controversially, he was the star of the Channel 5 dating show The Bachelor, where he had 25 girls competing to become his new girlfriend. These appearances haven’t gone down well with rugby fans. Many of which have branded Henson arrogant.
The worst part of this story is that it’s a huge waste of talent. Henson is gifted with bags of ability, both as a goal kicker and in open play. He has the ability to change a game in a blink of an eye, a gift that any outside half craves to have. His defensive play is renowned as well. Despite his injury worries he’s not afraid to put his body on the line and put in those big hits, something that Matthew Tait will testify to. He was one of the first names on the plane for the British and Irish Lions tour in 2005 following arguably his greatest moments in a Wales jersey in the Six Nations Campaign of 2005. Who can forget THAT penalty kick against England in 2005? Tight to the touch-line, forty four metres away from the posts and the seconds ticking away, Henson showed enormous composure to slot it over as if it was a routine kick. Wales went on to win the game 11-9 and win the Grand Slam.
Henson played a huge part in that success and it was hoped that his move to the Blues would reignite his international career. Sadly this wasn’t the case and it would very unlikely that Henson will be in the international fray for a while. He may have possibly played his last ever game for Wales.
He’s now 30 and Wales’ international side looks amongst the best in the world at present. He faces competition from Rhys Priestland and James Hook for the 10 jersey, with Dan Biggar and Jason Tovey playing on a regular basis at regional level.
In the centre position, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies have cemented their positions as the best pairing in Wales. Scott Williams proved in this Six Nations campaign that he can easily slot into midfield alongside either of them.
At fullback, the competition between Lee Halfpenny and Lee Byrne is a fierce one with Gorseinon youngster Halfpenny showing maturity beyond his years in this season’s competition, proving to be one of Wales’ star performers in their third Grand Slam in eight years.
Wales’ gamble on blooding youngsters through at an early age has paid off for the nation, but it looks like Henson could be one of the losers from it. Competition is fierce in all his positions and with his current record and Warren Gatland looking set to favour players playing within Wales, it would come as a surprise if he was to re-enter the international fold.
But what Henson needs to realise now that first and foremost that he is a rugby player and not a celebrity. There are youngsters from all over the world training for hours a day hoping that they can one day achieve their dream of playing at the highest level. Henson has been fortunate enough to do this and can still do so. I understand I’ve as good as written him off at international level, but it still doesn’t mean he will never play again. He needs to knuckle down, work hard and remember first and foremost what his job is.
So who would be interested in Henson? The bonus from the clubs perspective from this fiasco in the skies is that they have some flexibility in what they can offer him. Before, with his celebrity status and his talent, he could make high wage demands but that time has moved on. His reputation is in tatters and its time for Henson to eat some humble pie if he wants to play rugby again. I couldn’t honestly tell you where he will end up next; such is the unpredictability of the player. But what is certain, is wherever he goes, he needs to keep his head down, concentrate on his rugby, enjoy his profession and get rid of the arrogant stigma that has become known for and what the attitude that Welsh Rugby have been trying to eradicate over recent years. The years of being a professional sportsman are extremely limited and once past a certain age, there’s no chance of playing the game at the highest level, particularly in such a physical game such as rugby. I wish him the best of luck. There’s nothing worse than seeing talent go to waste. No-one would be happier than the welsh public to see the silver boots shine again at any level of the game.