Howley: Henson deserves a chance
May 31, 2011
Gavin Henson has put his hands up for selection according to Rob Howley © Getty Images
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has urged Gavin Henson to do his talking on the pitch as he prepares for a Test match return this weekend.
Henson will discover on Wednesday whether he starts Saturday's capped game against the Barbarians in Cardiff, or provides bench cover for a possible all-Scarlets midfield pairing of Jonathan Davies and rookie Scott Williams.
Either way, Henson is set to win his 32nd cap more than two years after he last played for Wales. Henson, who returned from a long self-imposed rugby exile earlier this year through brief stints with Saracens and then Toulon, is back on Wales squad duty, albeit without a club after he was recently released by the wealthy French outfit.
And Howley believes the 29-year-old can still make a mark just over three months away from this year's World Cup in New Zealand.
"I think it's easy to criticise the fact Gavin hasn't played," said Howley. "Gavin has been there and done it with what he has achieved in the game, the (Wales) Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008.
"He has been a player who has been highly influential in the game when he has played. I think Gavin deserves a chance, that is my personal opinion. What he is able to do is he has got a natural talent in creating space, not only for himself, but for the back three and opportunities outside him.
"It's giving Gavin the chance of making his name on the rugby field. It's down to Gavin now. He might be starting, he might be on the bench, but if he comes on then hopefully it is a positive influence that he has. He has trained well over the last four or five days, and it's just transferring that now on to the field."
Gatland's starting XV, under the captaincy of Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton, could see chances for players like Williams, his fellow 20-year-old Toby Faletau and in-form Newport Gwent Dragons wing Aled Brew.
Fly-half Stephen Jones, meanwhile, will join Gareth Thomas as only the second member of Wales' 100-cap club, reaching that landmark almost 13 years after making his Test debut.
"In World Cup year, you are looking at strength in depth. It's important we get that balance right in terms of youth and experience," Howley said.
"It is an important game, it's a Test match. Attitude in terms of mindset will be the most important element on Saturday afternoon."
Wales will face a Barbarians outfit buoyed by last Sunday's 38-32 victory over a shadow England side at Twickenham. The Baa-baas team is likely to feature Wales international forwards Martyn Williams and Iestyn Thomas, while Munster's former New Zealand Test wing Doug Howlett was due to link up with the squad later today.
"The one thing you don't have as a Baa-baas player is the fear of losing," said Howley. "You just turn up and play, with a never-say-die attitude. I was not surprised by their performance against England, and the longer you are on tour the better you get. I am sure they will have a very strong side out on the weekend." Henson, not for the first time, will be a centre of attention at the Millennium Stadium. Centurion Jones, though, deserves all the plaudits.
"It is a great honour," said the Scarlets No.10. "I have been very fortunate. It is important as a player that you evolve and look to add new strings to your bow. And touch wood, the body is okay."
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