Henson and Williams out to prove their worth
June 2, 2011
Recalled Wales centre Gavin Henson will be out to impress at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Wales' showdown with the Barbarians in Cardiff on Saturday has taken on an unexpectedly high level of significance due to the involvement of both Gavin Henson and Martyn Williams.
Henson is currently without a club after an acrimonious split with the Ospreys, an early release from his contract with Saracens and a controversial stint with Toulon. The former British & Irish Lion has not played for his country for two years through a combination of injury and personal problems but he has been named at inside-centre against a Baa Baas side that features former international colleague Martyn Williams.
The Cardiff Blues openside had seemingly been deemed surplus to requirements by Warren Gatland and yet now has a chance to impress against those who have moved ahead of him in the battle for a place in Wales' Rugby World Cup squad.
Wales - Player to Watch: Who else but Henson? All eyes will be on the former golden boy of Welsh rugby as he attempts to take a gilt-edged opportunity to resurrect his international career. Henson's recent stint in France with Toulon came to an abrupt and ignominious end but he did show on his Top 14 debut, against Stade Francais at the start of April, that he remains a mercurial talent when fit and focused. It will be absolutely fascinating to see how he fares this weekend.
Wales - Team News: The selection of Henson at inside-centre is obviously the major talking point but this is also a significant game for a number of other Welshmen. Fly-half Stephen Jones will be making his 100th appearance for his country this weekend, while Dragons back-row Toby Faletau and Ospreys prop Ryan Bevington will both be making their Test debuts. There are three other uncapped players on the bench: Dragons hooker Lloyd Burns, Blues prop Scott Andrews and Scarlets centre Scott Williams.
Barbarians - Player to Watch: Who else but Williams? Make no mistake about it, this game is just as important for Williams as it is for Henson. The Blues flanker's international career appeared over when he was left out of the Wales squad for this very game but his inclusion in the Baa Baas side offers Williams the perfect opportunity to prove himself worthy of a recall for the World Cup campaign.
Barbarians - Team News: There are just four survivors from the side that faced England at Twickenham last weekend. Italy No.8 Sergio Parisse, who has been retained as captain, and South African blindside Joe van Niekerk will again line out in the back-row, where they will be joined by the aforementioned Williams. Paul Sackey holds on to his berth on the right wing, while Mathieu Bastareaud will again wear the No.12 jersey. Sackey is joined by Leinster fullback Isa Nacewa and Munster wing Doug Howlett in the back three, while Bastareaud will have Seru Rabeni for company in midfield. As well as Williams, Iestyn Thomas will also be lining out against the land of his birth after being handed a start in the front-row alongside Sebastien Bruno and Carl Hayman. Cardiff Blues lock Paul Tito has been paired with Iosefa Tekori in the second-row, while Top 14 stars Brock James and Sebastien Tillous-Borde are the chosen half-backs.
Key Battle: It might not decide the game but, for many, the most mouth-watering match-up comes in midfield with the recalled Henson going head-to-head with France's midfield powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud. If Henson can get the better of an opponent as formidable and as imposing as Bastareaud, he will surely have one foot on the plane to New Zealand.
Trivia: These two sides have met seven times before, the first encounter coming in 1915.
Stats: Gareth Thomas is the only other player other than Stephen Jones to have earned 100 caps or more for Wales.
"It is an opportunity for players like Gavin to do his talking on the rugby pitch. We have Andrew Bishop, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and now Scott Williams, but we need depth, and hopefully Gavin does well and he puts some pressure on the established guys." - Wales head coach Warren Gatland on Henson's return.
"I know it's a real long shot I'm going to go to the World Cup. I just want to enjoy the occasion. I'm not looking at it as a trial match in any way, shape or form. There is no personal agenda or anything. I'm just looking forward to it." - Barbarians flanker Martyn Williams plays down the significance of Saturday's game in terms of his World Cup hopes.
Prediction: Wales are missing a number of key players through injury, including Matthew Rees, James Hook, Lee Byrne and Jamie Roberts, and they could struggle to contain a strong-looking Barbarians side. Narrow win for the invitational outfit.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.