By Will Kelleher
London Welsh’s big name summer signing Gavin Henson cannot keep out of the news – even when he is determined to make the most of being in the last chance saloon.
However, this time the 30-year-old is not the focus of bad press attention, rather the unfortunate story of his return to rugby with the Exiles being delayed through injury.
In just his second pre-season friendly for his new club, a 23-17 defeat to Llanelli Scarlets, Henson suffered a clash of heads with Deacon Manu.
An x-ray confirmed a minor fracture to the cheekbone, and the former Welsh international has been ruled out for four weeks.
He will miss the Aviva Premiership curtain-raiser against the Leicester Tigers at the Kassam stadium on Sunday, as well as the trip to current champions Harlequins on September 7.
Henson’s career has been blighted with controversy and injury, mixed with the highlights of winning the 2005 and 2008 grand slams with Wales and being part of the British and Irish Lions that toured New Zealand in 2005.
But Henson, who can play fly-half, full-back or inside centre, had been without a club since being sacked by Cardiff Blues in April following his drunken behaviour on a flight returning from a game in Glasgow, and his reality TV appearances on shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and The Bachelor have arguably made him more celebrity than rugby star.
However, Exiles head coach Lyn Jones has handed Henson a lifeline and, in doing so, reformed a coach-player partnership that helped Ospreys to two Celtic League titles and an Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Henson said: “I did not think I would get another chance but I wanted to put things right.
“[Cardiff] Blues was going to be my last club. I was made well aware [before the incident] that they weren’t going to sign me on but I couldn’t move on to another club because it was getting embarrassing.
“It was a bit demoralising and I was more or less finished, and with those thoughts going around my head I felt like I had unfinished business.
“If there’s anything good to come out of it, it’s that I couldn’t end on that note. So I just had to bite the bullet and sign again for another club and try to put things right.
“I played my best rugby under Lyn in 2003-04 and I’m hoping to recapture that.
“He’s a coach that I like working with, he’s super intelligent rugby-wise.
“He knows the game inside out, the way to approach games and how to set up against teams.
“I’m hoping I get a fair chance here and do my talking on the field. I’ve hardly played for a few years and my body has let me down a little bit. I took time out and it’s been a rough ride trying to get back in.
“That’s the rugby environment – it can be a tough place when you take time out like I did.
“I had a lot of fun and good experiences in that time off, but I’m sticking with rugby now, I really just want to play rugby. This is my last chance.”
Henson, who will be playing at fly-half when he recovers from the pre-season setback, made 33 appearances for Wales, scoring 130 points, but he believes his international days are a long way behind him.
He said: “I am a million miles away from the international team but you never say no.
“It has to be said though, it’s a good squad they’ve got and it doesn’t need me whatsoever.”
After Henson picked up his injury, head coach Jones told the club’s website: “No player wants to get injured in a pre-season friendly because it’s hugely frustrating because of all the hard work that’s been done leading up to the start of the season.
“But he’s not the first player to get injured and we’ll just have to be patient and deal with it.”
It is clear that when Henson returns, Jones will have a fired-up player on his hands.
Henson said: “I can’t wait to see how I cope with playing at fly-half. I have a bit of self doubt because it’s been so long but it’s definitely the position I most enjoy.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to hold on to that position if I get it. I’ll do the best I can and try and have a good season with London Welsh.”