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Warren Gatland hopeful of Gavin Henson's Wales return

Gavin Henson will miss Friday's hefty midfield collision with France
Gavin Henson will miss Friday's hefty midfield collision with France

Wales coach Warren Gatland has sung the praises of absent star Gavin Henson and said he still hopes that the centre will return to the national side.

"He's not available to us at the moment - maybe sometime in the future he might be," Gatland told BBC Sport Wales.

"But let's not under-estimate the qualities of him not being available."

Gatland raised the subject when asked about the deterioration in his side's defensive displays since his inaugural, Grand Slam-winning year in 2008.

Wales conceded just two tries in that triumphant Six Nations, benefiting from the defensive nous of Gatland and assistant Shaun Edwards.

Ospreys star Henson, 28, was an ever-present member of that 2008 campaign, forming a creative and defensively formidable midfield partnership with Tom Shanklin.

606: DEBATE

The pair also partnered each other to the 2005 Grand Slam, but those bursts of sustained play from the mercurial, 31-cap Henson have been few and far between.

A series of troubling injuries have limited his impact, while his motivation for the game has also been questioned.

The 2005 British and Irish Lions Test player has been absent on unpaid leave for all of the current season, and has not played since suffering an ankle injury when playing for the Ospreys last March.

But his impact on the international pitch is undoubted, Wales having won 16 and lost just six of the 23 games that he has started.

Gatland certainly recognised his value in talking about the worsening of Wales' defensive performances, as they prepare to take on Grand Slam-chasing France in Cardiff on Friday.

"You've got to look at the personnel [we have available]," said the Wales boss.

Gavin Henson takes on France's Mathieu Bastareaud
Gavin Henson will miss Friday's hefty midfield collision with France

"There was a player a couple of years ago who was key to our defence and our midfield.

"I hope people don't underestimate his qualities as a rugby player.

"Not just his attacking ability and kicking ability but what a great defensive player he is."

Gatland stressed that defence remains a key priority for his team and suggested a few of the things that have gone wrong in that area.

"Coming in in our first year [as Wales coaches] we put most emphasis on getting that defence right," said the New Zealander.

"We need to be mindful how important that is.

"We've missed a couple more tackles since, but sometimes there are areas that are out of your control.

"We've thrown a couple of intercepted passes and a few turnovers have been costly - we feel that we've been unlucky sometimes in terms of conceding tries.

"It's difficult to put a finger on it, but we do concentrate on it and put a huge amount of effort in.

"Perhaps we've been thinking about things too much. When Shaun and I first got involved we concentrated on just getting the team up into people's faces very quickly."

Sport Wales Six Nations special is on BBC TWO Wales at 1855 GMT, Friday, 26 February



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see also
Gavin Henson's value to Wales
23 Feb 10 |  Welsh
Gatland warns Wales back-row pair
23 Feb 10 |  Welsh
Lock Jones' shock Wales call-up
22 Feb 10 |  Welsh
France suffer double injury blow
24 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Henson Wales return is 'unlikely'
07 Feb 10 |  Welsh
Henson wanted leave to be unpaid
28 Oct 09 |  Welsh
Gatland urges Henson to play on
08 Oct 09 |  Welsh
Henson quashes retirement rumours
13 Jul 09 |  Welsh
Six Nations table
10 Aug 06 |  Tables
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
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