Gavin Henson has been out of rugby for 16 months
Wales coach Warren Gatland has not given up hope of Gavin Henson returning to playing but says time is running out if he is to be in World Cup contention.
Gatland admits he has had no direct contact this year with the 28-year-old double Grand Slam-winner.
Centre Henson has been on indefinite unpaid from the Ospreys for 16 months.
"If he's going to put himself in the frame for the World Cup it's got to be sooner rather than later," Gatland told Radio 5 live.
"If it's not until the new year it's potentially going to be too late, he's been out of the game for a while."
The 2011 World Cup in New Zealand kicks off for Wales on 11 September when they face South Africa in Wellington.
Gatland says that if Henson never returns to professional rugby it would be a loss for the game but the New Zealander says he suspects that the Bridgend-born player may relaunch his career outside of Wales.
"I think he'll end up at a club... I've only been reading the newspapers like everyone else and seen that a couple of clubs have been talking to him and perhaps he's looking to move out of Wales," Gatland added.
"Ideally we'd like to keep him there but maybe a fresh start, getting away from sort of the fishbowl that Wales is.
"I haven't spoken to Gavin but... it would be great to see him back on the rugby field.
That's where we've missed him [Gavin Henson], he's a very, very good defensive player
Wales coach Warren Gatland
"I had a quick conversation with him last year and we were going to meet up but we didn't. I have spoken to his agent and I just think it's a loss for the game, he's a talented player.
"He's a bit like Danny Cipriani [the England fly-half who has opted to join Melbourne Rebels in Australia] in some ways: you see gifted, talented players and you see some of the off-field issues and you'd like that to be sorted because you just want to see them on the field."
Like Cipriani, who had a much-publicised split with model and actress Kelly Brook, Henson has often been in the public eye as much for his off-field activities as his on-field accomplishments.
The 2005 and 2008 Wales Grand Slam-winner has been on unpaid leave since being hurt - having already suffered a string of lengthy injuries over several seasons - while playing for the Ospreys in April 2009 and Henson split from his fiancée, singer Charlotte Church, in June.
But Gatland says that Henson's public persona is at odds with the hard-training player he knows and says that Wales are still missing the attributes - particularly in defence - that Henson brought to the side.
"I know there's a lot of issues and the tan and the hair and everything like that! But I think it's brilliant for the game, I just love the individualism of people doing things that are different," Gatland said.
"You're talking about a guy who's very, very quiet, very, very shy, doesn't say a heck of a lot and that's not the perception that the public would have.
"He's very, very difficult to get a lot out of but he's probably one of the only players who questions [Wales defence coach] Shaun Edwards and is comfortable doing so, 'hang on Shaun, I want to do that again, defensively I want to get it right'.
"He's [Henson] very gifted in terms of how he reads the game, not just on attack but defensively. That's where we've missed him, he's a very, very good defensive player, reads the game fantastically from that point of view.
"We had no issues, he loves to train. He's a player that doesn't like to take the field unless he's 100% fit and I respect that.
"In terms of our environment and him being in the team with us, he was fantastic."