At 18 years of age, Gavin Lloyd Henson was one of the hottest prospects in world rugby. Not just Wales, the world. His humble background of Pencoed in Mid-Glamorgan gave him the grassroots story that everyone loves to get caught up in and quickly adapted to the game as he grew older. When provincial rugby came to Wales, Ospreys were quick to sign up Henson, and the then-21 year-old responded fantastically scoring 15 points on his club debut. At this tender age, the player showed maturity and was already a staple in the Welsh squad, making numerous appearances since 2001. Henson had the world at his feet.
However, therein lay the problem. Whether it was ‘sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll’, or even a heady concoction of the three, the player’s career spiralled downwards. Some would argue that an Achilles tendon injury has resurfaced enough times to forgive his on/off performances but whatever the excuse, Henson hasn’t been the same player since late 2008.
One accolade the Welshman will always be remembered for is the Welsh squads triumphant 2005 Six Nations venture. Henson was instrumental in some of the tournament’s matches, including a monumental penalty-kick against rivals England which is inevitably engraved on any compatriot who witnessed the marvel.
Gavin Henson has been out of the frame for a while now, only impressing on the dancefloor, flaunting many an exposed chest on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010. It’s the media coverage such as this that could be deemed most responsible for the utility back’s decline. In his book ‘My Grand Slam year’, Henson made numerous comments about his Lions tour in 2005, and while his honesty can be admired, an immediate backlash was inevitable. Another ingredient of an unsatisfactory personal life was his topsy-turvy relationship with Charlotte Church, with whom he has two daughters.
In the end, the first four years of Henson’s tenure at Ospreys were overshadowed by a disappointing final season. Ospreys felt comfortable enough with the rest of their squad, that after Henson lost three stone in weight during his sabbatical, the player entered a crisis period. After prolonged negotiations with the club, Henson was finally released by the Welsh club and joined London club Saracens. Three months and the most tumultuous point of his career to date, Henson was released from his contract in February 2011.
So, we come to the present. Gavin Henson next signed for Toulon, and since signing for the French big-spenders, we’ve seen glimpses of the good and the ugly from Gavin. The good being that anyone should be pleased with a try on their debut, and with injuries to the French side’s other fly-halves, the player should get some decent time in his preferred position. However, the ugly has been seen also, where in April Henson served a week’s ban for a brawl with his own teammates following a match against Toulouse.
Author, father, superstar. If the career of Gavin Henson is anything, it’s colourful and he never gives us a dull moment. Personally, I wish the former boy-wonder all the luck on his return to greatness, if there is one. As a young boy growing up in Wales, many a Sunday morning was spent trying to replicate some of his play, but there hasn’t been much to warrant replicating lately. Maybe in France, we’ll see that change.