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Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Thursday, 3 February 2011

Gavin Henson completes five-month Toulon move

Gavin Henson and Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal
Gavin Henson agrees his Toulon deal with president Mourad Boudjellal

Gavin Henson has completed a five-month deal with French giants Toulon after Saracens agreed to release the Wales centre from his contract.

Henson is the latest player to join the British exodus to France, and follows Jonny Wilkinson, Lee Byrne and James Hook in agreeing a move to the Top 14.

Henson said the lure of teaming up with Wilkinson was a big factor in his move.

"It was just a massive opportunity for me. I couldn't really pass up on," he told BBC Wales.

"Looking at a clause in my contract as well, and plus [director of rugby] Philippe [Saint-Andre] was really keen for me to play 12 at Toulon and starts straight away, so more or less start playing next week.

"And also cover 10 when Jonny's not there, and to obviously play alongside Jonny Wilkinson - 10-12 - that is going to be amazing.

"I couldn't really pass on this and obviously the weather is pretty good down here. I think it's going to be great for me and I can't wait to start on Monday with them."

Henson, 29, made the switch to Toulon after he passed a medical.

Toulon have agreed to his request that he is allowed to report for Wales duty if called up by boss Warren Gatland.

Toulon say that they will reassess Henson's contract at the end of the current season.

Premiership club Saracens released the Welsh double Grand Slam winner on Wednesday night after Henson asked for his contract at the London club, which was due to run until the end of the season, to be terminated.

"Over the last couple of days I think Gavin and his representatives have been in discussion with Toulon," Sarries chief executive Edward Griffiths told BBC Three Counties Radio.

"We try to create a club where we try and ensure the best possible environment for every player.

"And if every player believes his career is going to be taken forward somewhere else then we're going to respect that.

"This is the way it's turned out, which in a sense is unfortunate, but there's no hard feelings and we wish him all the best."

On whether Henson fitted in at Saracens, Griffiths said: "That would be for him to say. From our point of view we're comfortable we worked as hard as possible to create the right environment for him.

"If Gavin feels his career lies somewhere else then under the terms of the arrangement we have with him he's perfectly entitled to do that."

Henson, who made his Sarries debut only six weeks ago, will now join fellow British rugby superstar Wilkinson at the glamour club on the French south coast.

The 31-times capped Welsh international played only four games for Saracens after joining them in a high-profile deal from Welsh region the Ospreys in October in 2010.

Henson made only one start, an anonymous 53-minute outing in the Premiership defeat to Sale at Edgeley Park.

Henson, desperate to be in Wales' Six Nations squad, had voiced his concern at not being given any game time at Saracens in his preferred positions of fly-half and inside centre which he felt was detrimental to his international hopes.

But he missed out on selection anyway because he sustained a calf injury in their Heineken Cup game at Leinster in January.

Henson, however, is expected to return to fitness within the next two weeks and there is a suggestion that he could make his Toulon Top 14 debut against Brive on 11 February.

Toulon had initially expressed an interest for Henson to join them next season - after any potential 2011 Rugby World Cup duties with Wales.

We wish Gavin all the best for the future as he continues his return to the highest level of the game

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray

But the French outfit's move for Henson was accelerated as they required urgent cover at fly-half and their team manager Tom Whitford had admitted there is a vacancy in their squad for a "medical joker" under special regulations to replace injured players.

Toulon are currently without England fly-half Wilkinson, who is on Six Nations duty, and injured Argentine star Felipe Contepomi.

So the French big-spenders made enquiries about Henson regarding a move to the Heineken Cup quarter-finalists until the end of the season.

But the deal Henson is set to sign will secure his often uncertain future until the summer of 2013.

French sports newspaper L'Equipe reported on Wednesday that Henson met Saint-Andre and Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, the millionaire comic-book publisher, for lunch in Toulon on Wednesday.

Sarries, who had agreed to help Henson back to full fitness following his high-profile 18 month rugby sabbatical, released a statement on Wednesday night confirming that they had complied with Henson's wish to be released from his contract.

And Toulon would have negotiated financial compensation with Saracens as they wanted Henson immediately.

The French club are yet to confirm reports that the Bridgend-born international is to join their star-studded roster.

Henson has spoken of his desire to represent Wales at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which takes place in New Zealand in September and October, so has sought assurances from the club that he will be available for rugby's showpiece and future Wales international.

He is the third former Ospreys star to agree a move to France as versatile Hook will join Perpignan in the summer and full-back Byrne is to join Clermont Auvergne after the Rugby World Cup.

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see also
Henson suffers Six Nations blow
17 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Gatland in Henson Wales warning
07 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Henson links up with Wales squad
04 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Henson eager for Saracens debut
20 Dec 10 |  Saracens
Henson poised for Wembley debut
02 Dec 10 |  Saracens
'Delighted' Henson joins Saracens
28 Oct 10 |  Saracens

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