Sunday, November 10, 2013

We'll see how he gets on

...or is he leading us on another merry dance?  Time to put all the jokes & ridicule into context.


There are those who feel London Welsh shouldn't play in the Aviva Premiership next season.

Some allegedly hold that opinion because it is becoming something of a “closed shop” and the whole fiasco over “primacy of tenure” was just an attempt by the elite clubs to shut out the young pretenders.

Others hold the traditional stance that the team with the best record in the Championship, which last season was Bristol, should be the ones to ascend to the higher tier.

I strongly disagree with both viewpoints, for the same reason. It's pretty much a basic requirement for any sporting tournament in any code to have the rules properly set out before a ball is kicked, served or thrown.

In the case of primacy of tenure, there should have been no dispute after the Championship final who could or could not progress to the higher level. A deadline should have been set long before the playoffs began which determined clubs' eligibility and that deadline should even have allowed for the appeals process.

In the case of who should be considered winners of the Championship, extremely flawed though its playoff process may have been last season, the fact remains that all 12 clubs knew it at the beginning of the campaign, so for Bristol to have been the best team over the 22 regular-season matches matters little. Same goes for Leinster in last season's Pro12...this particular fan of theirs holds no ill will towards the playoff system whatsoever.

Still, when all is said and done, London Welsh RFC can in many ways consider themselves extremely fortunate to be playing along with Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Saracens this season.

Which of course makes them a perfect fit for Mr Gavin Henson.

I took a bit of stick this morning for posting a tweet which said the above photo was of Henson “posing with everyone who is backing him to succeed”. And in the past I haven't shied away from poking fun at the chap, though I dare anyone to suggest I have been the only one!

Is the constant ridicule cruel? Perhaps. But only when you think the rugby world revolves around one player.

A few days ago I penned a rant which defended another well known inside centre Sonny Bill Williams, or more to the point his agent Khoder Nasser, for looking after his client's best interests by getting him the best contract on offer, even if that meant switching countries and codes.

But that does not mean I believe all agents are good. And I want to make it clear that when I have a pop at Gavin Henson, it is not so much directed at the man itself, more to the absolute muppets who are behind the scenes giving him advice.

Yes, I know, in an ideal world we should be responsible for our own actions but the way I see it, the Henson saga is in every way a perfect example of the negative side of professionalism as predicted by everyone who opposed it coming in to the modern game.

Here's how I see his career to date...showed amazing promise to begin with, culminating in a key role in Wales' 2005 Grand Slam triumph. Then the vultures began to circle and a corporate PR machine formed around which seemed to feel the best thing to do was make him rugby's answer to David Beckham.

Sadly the player couldn't match the hair gel, fake tan and "invisalign" dental treatment with form and the seeds of his unpopularity began to grow on the 2005 Lions Tour of New Zealand, when most other players would be expected to be at the top of their game.

He later missed the 2007 World Cup having insufficiently recovered from an Achilles tendon injury and although he did feature in the following season's Grand Slam campaign, he was nowhere near the dominant player had had been three years earlier and in many ways the photo of his “air tackle” on Tommy Bowe in 2009 captures just how much his game had declined from the days when he had Matthew Tait in his handbag.

Then came his “sabbatical”. There were many statements and tabloid rumours regarding his situation, but the simple fact of the matter was, he stopped playing rugby.

If the man was having problems in his private life I am certainly not one to ridicule him for that. But from where I'm sitting, it was the period when he was being re-introduced to the game that the silliness began.

It was actually back in 2010 when Gavin Henson should have been togging out for a club like London Welsh. Or maybe even a team in the Welsh Premiership. It's a professional game now, so when you've been out of action for 18 months, not only do you need time to play your way back to full match fitness, you kind of owe it to the other pros who put the time in while you were gone to earn your way back to their level.

But this common sense approach clearly didn't make common cents for the money men. We will never know what was actually going on behind the scenes, but not only did they have the audacity to have the guy prancing around on reality shows while the rugby season was on, they seemed to think he would be just welcomed back to top flight rugby with open arms.

Thankfully the Ospreys told him where he could stick his sequins, but for a while he was able to find a home at different clubs around Europe, albeit for a very short stint at a time. And the spin doctors (witch doctors more like) even suggested that he had a shot of playing at RWC2011, something I contend was never going to happen.

So here were are now. He's back with yet another club, but this time in a completely different set of circumstances.  All joking aside for a moment...what are his chances?

Gordon Ross was capped 25 times for Scotland, all at fly-half. He now plays for London Welsh, and started in their Championship final victory over Cornish Pirates. I wonder how he feels about Henson's announcement today that he intends to wear the number 10 jersey for his new employers?

While I wish the Scotsman no disrespect, the club is in the big leagues now, and not only does it need to focus on finishing in the top 11 on the Premiership table for the next season, it also needs bums on seats, and for a club looking to cash in on its “exile” identity much like its Irish and Scottish counterparts, it really would make more sense for them to go with Henson more often than not.

So what this means is that events have transpired for the enigmatic Welshman to have an opportunity to regularly start in the top flight and show us he still belongs at that level. Hopefully, the morons who have been steering his ship against the tide for so long won't have him saying stupid things like “I want to start for the Lions in Australia” or worse making guest appearances on Made in Chelsea...he just needs to knuckle down, focus on his game and see where it takes him.

But from the interviews I have read it seems he has in Lyn Jones he has the right man to get him where he needs to be. I would have pegged Mike Ruddock as another one who would be a good fit but he's otherwise occupied right now.

If Henson features for the majority of the season and London Welsh stay up, than that will be an amazing success for him as well as for the club of course. And despite all the jokes, wisecracks and cartoons I have done, I want to make it clear that I genuinely wish the man all the best.

On the other hand, if the wheels do come off as many seem to think they will, then I'm afraid the caricature will remain and the fun-poking will prevail once more. To ask commentators to lay off would be like asking them not to breathe oxygen.

Let's see how he gets on, shall we? JLP

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