Henso handed World Cup lifeline

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Gavin Henson has been handed a World Cup trial by Wales as he bids to play in the showpiece tournament for the first time in his career.

Henson will make his first Test appearance for more than two years after being named to face the Barbarians - arguably rugby union's most famous invitational side - at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The 29-year-old former golden boy of Welsh rugby has not played at this level since March 2009 following his self-imposed break from the game to pursue a television career amid injuries.

Currently without a club, he has made just four starts this season, for English Premiership champions Saracens and last month for French giants Toulon.

The centre was trying to rekindle the form which made him a British Lion in 2005 and force his way into World Cup reckoning.

"It's great to be back," Henson said on Thursday as he prepared to launch his bid to play in this year's World Cup in New Zealand. "I am over the moon to get this chance - I have really missed it.

"I feel mentally refreshed. Yes, I would love to come into this match on the back of 20 games under my belt or something, but that's not the case.

"But I have got a chance here, and I will do everything I can on Saturday to hopefully force my way into these August internationals (Wales play England twice and Argentina), and then looking forward to the World Cup.

"At this moment in time, Wales is the most important thing for me. I have never been to a World Cup, and this is my only chance to try to make it right. I want to do everything I can.

"The World Cup is the biggest stage, and it is something I have missed out on twice. It is a huge driving factor in me - I really want to be on that plane.

"But I have got a lot to do. I am down the pecking order at the moment, which is fair enough.

"For me, the World Cup is the biggest spectacle, the biggest thing in a rugby career. I've never been to one. I don't want to watch this rugby World Cup on television again."

Welsh coach Warren Gatland said: "Gavin is well aware how much he is under the spotlight but he has got an opportunity.

"I spoke to him in the week and he's loved being back in the squad. He missed it and was glad to be back. It's great from our point of view.

"Hopefully, he may be part of the World Cup squad but we'll get the answer from that on Saturday."

Henson effectively sacrificed a potentially-lucrative long-term deal at Toulon for the sake of his remaining ambition, to play at a World Cup.

He was controversially omitted from Steve Hansen's squad in 2003 and suffered similar heartache four years later under Gareth Jenkins following a several injuries.

Meanwhile, Stephen Jones will emulate Gareth Thomas to become only the second player to win 100 caps for Wales when he starts at five-eighth. Ospreys prop Ryan Bevington and Tongan-born back-row Toby Faletau will make their international debuts.

The Barbarians overturned a 17-point deficit last weekend to beat England 38-32 at Twickenham.

Their multi-national side includes former All Blacks Doug Howlett and Carl Hayman as well as Wales flanker Martyn Williams, who still hopes to play at a fourth World Cup. Italy No. 8 Sergio Parisse will captain the Barbarians.