worldcup online – the real conversation

Gavin Henson took 30 minutes to prove his genius against England in Cardiff. Injury should not keep him at home

August 15th, 2011 by · No Comments · Features

Genius makes its own rules, so perhaps Warren Gatland will consider it worth ignoring the maxim, when he comes to make up his mind about whether to take Gavin Henson to New Zealand, that you do not take an injured player to a major tournament. In 30 minutes on the pitch in Cardiff on Saturday, Henson did enough to show that, of all the centres at work in the British Isles, only Brian O’Driscoll is his equal.

A gliding run and a silken pass to Shane Williams, perfectly flighted to cut out two defenders, showed the qualities of his head, hands and feet. Sharp work in an early ruck, for which he received pats on the back from his colleagues, illustrated the commitment to the team ethic that has always been a part of his make-up. A superb tackle on Shontayne Hape, who froze like a snake in front of a mongoose, demonstrated his defensive qualities.

With just about any other player, the diagnosis of a dislocated bone in his right wrist, which required surgery on Saturday night and will keep him out of action for six to eight weeks, would mean an abrupt end to the hope of travelling to the World Cup next month. A decision to include him in the party would normally come under the heading of unacceptable risk.

But Henson is not the kind of player who needs games under his belt. As long as he is physically fit, the talent will show itself. There is no doubt that, having missed the World Cups of 2003 and 2007, he would be consumed with a desire to contribute to the team’s effort this time around.

He typifies the ability to play spontaneous, heads-up rugby that comes naturally to Welshmen but is once again eluding England. The flanker Sam Warburton, picked at 22 to deputise in the captaincy role for the injured hooker Matthew Rees, is another with the ability to play the game as he sees it unfolding in front of him, rather than doing what Mike Tindall admitted England did in Cardiff, which was to try to reproduce the moves they had worked on during the week.

Were Rees unable to join the World Cup party, as seems increasingly likely, Warburton would let no one down. Exceptional in the narrow defeat at Twickenham a week earlier, he was Saturday’s undisputed man of the match for his dynamic work at the breakdown. This is a young man, with only 17 caps to his name, who does not let the pressures of captaincy affect his natural game at No7.

What happened after the match at Twickenham – where they were “happy with the performance but not with the result”, according to Gatland – says much for the way this Wales squad are being led, on and off the pitch. “The players had the opportunity to go into the bar afterwards for a couple of hours,” the head coach explained. “But they made the decision, ‘No, we’re not going to have a drink.’ They said: ‘We’re going to recover and we’re going to wake up tomorrow and start thinking about England for the home match.’ As a coach I’m pretty proud of the whole mental attitude. That’s been a big turnaround.”

It certainly is, as Warburton admitted, given that it is only a few months since the after-hours escapades of certain players were making headlines and seemingly setting the tone.

“Wales have obviously had a lot of bad press over the last year with drinking,” the young skipper said. “But we made a collective decision that it was best not to drink after the Twickenham game. With only a short turnaround, we needed to get our recovery in. The best thing was to get back to the hotel and have some good food, bang in the protein shakes and get back to it on Monday.”

The rigorous pre-World Cup preparations had begun last month, with a boot camp in Poland. “A few people laughed about us going there,” Gatland said, “but to play against the best teams in the world we need to be in the best physical condition. I’ve felt in the past that when we’ve come into international weeks or big tournaments, we’re not always as fit as the opposition. We’ve had to top up and do extra work. But having the players together for two months has almost been like having a club side and we’ve been able to do the work required.

“When I was at Wasps, over three or four years we produced the fittest and most powerful team in the Premiership. We’ve got things to work on in our game but we know that when we’re under pressure we’ve got guys who are ready to soak it up and take responsibility. That’s what good sides do and they get the reward for their hard work.”

Gavin Henson was among those putting in the hard work and it would a tragedy if he were denied, for the third and very possibly final time, a chance of the reward of simply taking part. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & ConditionsMore Feeds

Read more…


No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment