Welsh rugby’s most recognised face starred again for Bath today as they made it to next month’s Amlin Cup final in Cardiff.
Gavin Henson’s dream of playing for Wales at next year’s World Cup is still alive as he came off the bench to play a vital part in Bath reaching the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Welsh rugby’s most recognised face was the subject of customary cat-calls and wolf-whistles from spectators when he appeared for the final nine minutes as they held on against Dai Young’s London Wasps in a nip-and-tuck semi-final at High Wycombe’s Adams Park.
But, as Bath coach and former rugby league star Mike Ford pointed out, Henson’s influence was crucial as they had to survive the final four minutes a man short after his centre partner Kyle Eastmond was yellow-carded.
Henson was hungry, organised, made tackles and chased every kick, even those that went out of play, to ensure Wasps couldn’t take any quick line-outs, to win plaudits from the 2005 Lions defence coach and former England backs guru.
“Gavin has been brilliant for us. You saw him come off the bench and cover 13. He moved to 12 when Kyle was binned and can also cover 10,” beamed Ford.
“I have to say Gavin has been a model professional since he’s been at Bath.
“He’s not come to me whinging about not being picked or getting enough game-time.
“Gavin has been excellent in his attitude and work, which is why we gave him a new contract. If it wasn’t, our organisation would have spit him out.
“Can he get back in the Wales set-up? He can because he certainly still possesses the ability. He can play in the centre or at outside-half and Wales are looking for a 10, which is why they’re chasing Gareth Anscombe in New Zealand.
“But, first and foremost, Gavin needs to be playing for Bath in the Premiership. He’s got the talent to do that. If he focuses on doing that, which he has been, he’s has every chance. Gavin’s only recently 32 and time is on his side.
“The World Cup is next year so you can never say never. We’ve been delighted with his contribution since he joined Bath.”
Having followed Henson’s career since he burst on the scene with the Swansea club team and picked up the International Rugby Board’s world player of the year, it really seems the double Six Nations Grand Slam winner has matured.
Sometimes, in the past, his head would drop if he was a replacement, but he showed a refreshing appetite for the warm-up, during his half-time workout and behind the try-line as play went on.
Bath had to mount a desperate rearguard action after Henson arrived and they needed the power of Wales loose-head prop Paul James to win a penalty at a key scrum to get them out of trouble and book a place in Europe’s second-tier final at Cardiff Arms Park on May 23.
“Paul’s inspirational to us because he’s a guy who never misses a training session or game and always performs to a certain standard,” said Ford.
“Whether it’s raining or sunny, we’re home or away, he rolls up his sleeves and gets on with it. Paul doesn’t say much but when he does, people listen.”
Hooker Rob Webber got two of Bath’s tries with prop Anthony Perenise getting the other, outside-half George Ford converting them all and adding a penalty.
Wasps’ points came from touchdowns for right-wing Will Helu and flanker Ashley Johnson, veteran pivot Andy Goode converting the first and then finding the target with two penalties.
Former Blues coach and ex-Wales captain Young didn’t have any complaints about failing to book a return to his old Arms Park stomping ground.
“We came up a little bit short against quality opposition,” he said.
“It was pretty much a mirror of what’s happened to us this season, We worked our socks off to score points then through miscommunication or inaccuracy we concede soft points.”
Wasps: A Masi; W Helu, E Daly, C Bell (capt, C Hayter, 16), T Varndell; A Goode, J Simpson; M Mullan (S McIntyre 60), C Festuccia (T Lindsay 60), P Swainston (T Vea 68), J Launchbury, K Myall (T Palmer 60), A Johnson, N Hughes (S Jones 68), J Haskell
Bath: N Abendanon; S Rokoduguni (A Watson 67), J Joseph, K Eastmond, M Banahan (G Henson 71); G Ford, P Stringer (M Young 64); N Catt (P James 50), R Webber (R Batty 64), A Perenise (D Wilson 50), S Hooper (capt), D Day, M Garvey (A Fa’osiliva 72), L Houston, G Mercer (C Fearns 50).
Original story on Wales Online.