Roberts backs Henson to shine
August 12, 2011
Roberts is hoping to inspire a return to winning ways for Wales this weekend © Getty Images
Wales centre Jamie Roberts has backed his midfield partner Gavin Henson to prove his doubters wrong against England at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Only a few months ago, Roberts was amongst those to publically air concerns about the Welsh Rugby Union's use of Henson for marketing purposes when he was not part of the international set-up. But he is now ready to team up with him in Wales colours for the first time since 2009 and possibly help catapult him towards World Cup selection.
"Gavin has been out of the game for a while," commented the 24-year-old Cardiff Blues star who will win his 31st Wales cap this weekend. "But he has come back in, trained well and I am sure more than anything he's looking to prove to people that he can perform on the international stage.
"The boys are behind him, and I will be helping him try to do that on Saturday. He's a very talented player and hopefully he can get back to the heights that he hit before he walked away from the game a couple of years ago.
"It is going to be hard for him, but it's a challenge he won't shirk from. Hopefully, he will go well on Saturday. There is nothing for him to be afraid of. He will be among experienced players, and I'm sure he will bring something new to the team.
"We did play together once before - in Italy in the 2009 Six Nations - and I don't think either me or Gav touched the ball until the 60th minute!"
Henson's appearance - his first against England since Wales set off on their Six Nations Grand Slam march three years ago - will inevitably mean he is the centre of attention. But the side in general are under pressure and need to rediscover a winning habit just 18 days before they head for New Zealand.
Gatland's men can reflect on just five victories in the last 20 Tests - against Italy (twice), Scotland (twice) and Ireland - and their success rate since the last World Cup stands at barely 47%.
"Having lost twice to them (England) this year, I think there is a bit of pressure on us to win at home," said Roberts. "The Welsh nation expects, and as players we need to start expecting victories. We are the home team and we need to produce the goods.
"It's now or never, really. We beat England at the Millennium Stadium in 2009, which I think was one of the toughest internationals I've played in. It was brutal. But my memories of it are awesome. We were very direct, and I think we outmuscled England that day.
"But going into the World Cup we want a couple of good wins under our belt, and you don't get a bigger game than England. This squad is full of a lot of good players, very experienced players who have been at the highest level for a long time. We certainly need to up our game this week."
Henson, fullback James Hook, hooker Lloyd Burns and lock Luke Charteris all gain their first starts of Wales' World Cup warm-up schedule, with several more changes planned for next weekend's Cardiff appointment with Argentina. Gatland will name his World Cup squad on Monday week, and one of the current hot topics is whether previously-unheralded Scarlets back Rhys Priestland can maintain his startling progress.
Priestland, drafted into the fly-half role when Stephen Jones pulled out injured 10 minutes before kick-off at Twickenham last Saturday, keeps the shirt tomorrow. And there are many who believe the starting back division this weekend could be the one that features against opening World Cup opponents South Africa on September 11.
Priestland said: "It's going to be a big challenge, but I will just do the basics right and not mess up. Hooky and Steve (Jones) are probably quite a way in front of me. My target now is just to do the best I can this weekend and, hopefully, stake a claim to make that World Cup squad.
"If it's on to run from our 22, we will do that. If it's not, we will have to take our time or put boot to ball. The pressure is on because we were beaten at Twickenham last Saturday, but we won't go into our shells."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape