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Gavin Henson must deliver on field, says Warren Gatland

Gavin Henson and Warren Gatland in 2008
Gavin Henson takes Gatland's advice during Wales' 2008 Grand Slam campaign

Wales coach Warren Gatland has welcomed Gavin Henson's return to rugby, but says the player must prove himself before being considered for selection.

Henson has relaunched his career by joining Saracens from the Ospreys.

But seeing out his Strictly Come Dancing commitments means Henson's 19-month absence from the field continues.

Gatland said: "Until he gets on the rugby field and starts playing and starts performing and catches our eye, Gavin Henson's not on our minds."

The Wales coach was speaking as his team conducted an open training session for fans at the Millennium Stadium ahead of the November Tests.

On Thursday's Scrum V radio programme, Gatland's defensive assistant Shaun Edwards suggested Henson could be considered for the Six Nations, which Wales kick off against England in Cardiff on Friday, 4 February.

"It's fantastic for Welsh rugby to get one of our best players back fit and available," Edwards said.

"Around the time of the Six Nations he should be firing on all cylinders if he stays fit. There seems a correlation with Gavin playing and Wales winning."

But Gatland took a different tack, saying: "Forget about his club and forget about Wales, I always said personally I would like to see him back playing and just getting on the field.

"I mean, every time I go to a press conference or whatever, I get asked about Gavin Henson and I can tell you as coaches and that he never comes up in conversation because until he gets on the rugby field and starts playing and starts performing and catches our eye Gavin Henson's not on our mind as a player.

Henson targets Wales call-up

"It's just good to see him back playing anyway.

Asked if Henson would be considered for the Six Nations, Gatland said: "He's got to play well."

Henson has not played for 19 months after being injured playing for the Ospreys against Gloucester in the LV= Cup.

He then went on unpaid leave, having last featured for Wales in the 2009 Six Nations defeat to Ireland.

The double Grand Slam winner is currently competing on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing programme and, when his commitments to the show end, he plans to play for Saracens, having secured a deal to the end of the season when the Ospreys "reluctantly" agreed to release him from his contract on Wednesday.

"[The news] has been taken positively in the Wales camp," said Edwards, who is helping head coach Warren Gatland prepare for the four-Test November series against Australia, South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand.

"Everyone wants their best players available. We are suffering from injuries and Gavin is a quality player."

Edwards, who is also head coach at Wasps, could be up against Henson when his club faces Saracens at Wembley on Boxing Day.

"I'm pretty sure he will cope well in the Premiership, he's at a good club in Saracens and he loves the big stage," said Edwards.

Knowing Gavin Henson it wouldn't surprise me to see him running out for Wales [against England]

Phil Bennett

But should Henson walk straight back into the national squad it is sure to be controversial.

"It would put Gatland in an extremely difficult situation because he has always said he prefers Welsh-based players," former Wales wing Adrian Hadley told BBC Sport.

"But Gatland is a very, very big fan of Gavin Henson and if he starts performing at Saracens he will have no option but to pick him."

In September, the Welsh Rugby Union's publicity stunt of using non-playing Henson as the poster boy for the launch of the new Wales kit caused consternation amongst some national squad members.

The often-fractious relationship between the Union and the four Welsh regions could also be strained by a relaxation of the policy of favouring Wales-based players as the Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets seek to keep their top players away from the lure of English and French clubs.

Speaking of Henson's move to Saracens, Hadley said: "I would be a bit cheesed off if I was the Ospreys.

Henson free for World Cup build-up

"By getting out of his contract Henson hasn't shown one bit of loyalty, especially after the way the Ospreys have looked after him."

Despite the controversy that is likely to follow, Henson's forthcoming return to action has been almost universally welcomed.

"The Ospreys have behaved with great dignity over the last 12 months or so," Wales legend Phil Bennett told BBC Sport.

"They wanted Henson back, both for his talent on the field and for his commercial value.

"But it was time to move on. The Ospreys coaches were fed up of talking about him and wanted to concentrate on their own game."

Former Ospreys boss Lyn Jones - Henson's first regional coach - added: "The Ospreys have been very mature in the way they have dealt with this, it was a very brave move.

"If there was an argument with Henson on his way out then he would never have come back, but we all want to see him eventually back in Wales and playing in an Ospreys jersey again."

Henson's erstwhile Wales and Ospreys team-mate Shane Williams is confident his fellow British and Irish Lion will return to Test rugby.

Gavin can get back very quickly indeed, he knows rugby inside out, more than any player I've ever coached

Lyn Jones

"I am sure he will play for Wales again. He is keeping himself fit, and he is the sort of player who will play some good rugby after a couple of games," said Williams.

Both Bennett and Jones acknowledge that 31-cap Henson, a 2005 Lions Test player, faces a major challenge if he is again to scale the rugby heights.

"It's going to be a huge task for Gavin to get back to his best," said 1977 Lions captain Bennett.

"It will take a long, long time because in his absence players have got fitter, faster and much more mature.

"How he's kept himself in shape I don't know, but he will be targeted in the Premiership because the opposition will know that it will take him a while to get used to the pace of the game.

"It's a tough ask, but at least he will be back on the field. I hope he gets the chance to play some good rugby for Saracens, to get match fit and to enjoy his rugby.

"Knowing Gavin Henson it wouldn't surprise me to see him running out for Wales [against England on 4 February].

"But to make it back for the Six Nations would be a massive task.

"The dream would be to play in the World Cup, that could be the goal that gets him back to 100% at Test level.

"At the end of the day I want to see the potential I saw in Gavin when he started playing for the Ospreys. He was a brilliant young talent and - for various reasons - he hasn't fully blossomed."

Jones concluded: "Gavin can get back very quickly indeed. He knows rugby inside out - more than any player I've ever coached.

"It would be a huge call for him to get back for the Six Nations. But he's Superman and you never know."

Gavin Henson performs 'the Worm' in Saracens initiation

Gavin Henson performs 'the Worm' in Saracens initiation



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see also
'Delighted' Henson joins Saracens
28 Oct 10 |  Saracens
Venter hit with misconduct fine
04 Nov 10 |  Saracens
Wales select Warburton at flanker
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Gatland's Wales warning to Henson
22 Oct 10 |  Welsh
Hougaard injury blow for Saracens
18 Oct 10 |  Saracens
'Raw' Henson targets London move
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Henson back in Wales rugby shirt
08 Sep 10 |  Welsh
Gatland hopeful of Henson return
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Shooting Stars: Gavin Henson (Wales)
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Gavin Henson's value to Wales
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Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh
Coming up next on Scrum V...
03 Nov 08 |  Welsh
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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