The Mercurial Centre
Late on Sunday night, police were called to a disturbance on St Marys Street. On arrival at the Queen’s Vault Pub opposite the Millennium Stadium, the scene they discovered must have been amusing. A tired and emotional Gavin Henson was in the process of being escorted out of the pub by a far more sober Lee Bryne while Mike Phillips, not exactly a choir-boy himself, was apologising for Henson’s behaviour on the pub’s karaoke microphone.
Although both the pub and the police refused to provide details, St Marys Street has been thick with conflicting rumour and hearsay about what went on all week. Whatever the details of Henson and co’s Sunday night, one thing is clear. Many more antics like this could seriously derail Henson’s career. Henson, along with Andy Powell, Mike Phillips, Lee Bryne, Rhys Thomas and Jonathan Thomas, admitted to “varying degrees of regrettable conduct” and received a warning from the Welsh Rugby Union.
A statement on the WRU’s official website said:
“Their presence in the city centre exposed them to situations where their conduct was under close scrutiny and their behaviour should have reflected that. They have all been warned that their various levels of involvement in events which took place on Sunday will be taken into account in future if they are party to any incidents where misconduct is apparent.”
Henson, however, was particularly singled out and has since issued a public apology to “anyone member of the public he offended” for his part in that wild evening.
This is the latest in a string of controversial incidents Henson has got himself into. Barely a year ago, he was charged with “disorderly conduct” after all sorts of alleged unpleasantness on a train returning from London after he appeared for The Ospreys against Harlequins in the EDF Cup. Thankfully for him, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all charges.
The former glamour boy of Welsh rugby is nothing but a complex individual and, over the years, he has developed a love-hate relationship with the own fans. His momentous displays in the 2005 and 2008 Grand Slams, in which he was an ever present, saw him hailed as the embodiment of Welsh rugby with a body of oak and hands of silk.
At other times, when he has underperformed and appeared sullen and disinterested, he has been dismissed as a perma-tanned prima donna who plays for himself. After one memorably poor performance, one concerned fan put a brick through Henson’s face on a billboard outside the stadium.
Whether he likes it or not, Henson’s performances on the rugby pitch will forever be associated with his public persona. Many people expect him to adorn the frontcover of Hello! with his celebrity wife as much as covering the back pages of the newspapers.
More worryingly for Henson though, is that its now been a year since he last played for Wales. Unlike Powell, Bryne and Phillips, Henson did not play in the win against England and still faces a battle for fitness before he can play against France in Paris. Henson was undoubtedly immense for Wales in last years Grand Slam victory.
Warren Gatland and, in particular, Shaun Edwards have done wonders for his game. They forced him to master a specific position, inside centre, and combined his delicate distribution and natural eye for a running angle with steely defence and disciplined positioning.
However well Jamie Roberts played the position on Saturday with the barnstorming Tom Shanklin outside him, Wales still lacked seemed to lack a cutting edge. Joe Worsley’s successful dual with Roberts in the centre of the pitch revealed Wales’s game plan as narrow and one-dimensional. It needs to be remembered that without the steady stream of penalties, Wales would have been struggling to overcome England.
As much as Henson needs Wales, Wales need him. He offers skill and subtly to the inside centre position, and his quick hands mean that he can be used as an auxiliary stand off, leaving Roberts to hit defenders further away from the pack.
If Henson and Roberts are both fit and on form, it is difficult to think of a better centre pairing in world rugby. But therein lies the problem. Henson has 28 caps, but should be well past the 50 mark by now. He has missed two world cups, both through injury. Due to his increasingly consistent injury problems, and his increasingly inconsistent ability to handle his beer, the prospect of him playing a key part in this year’s push for the Grand Slam, and the ensuing Lion’s Tour, are becoming less and less likely.
The hard truth is he has slipped down the pecking order. As far as the Welsh fans are concerned, it is fellow revellers Mike Phillips, Lee Bryne and Andy Powell who are the poster boys off the pitch and go-to men on it.
As he approaches his 27 birthday, he needs to deliver a timely reminder of why he was once seen as the embodiment of Welsh rugby, rather than a jack the lad with a pretty girlfriend and plenty of potential.