Saturday, 27 April 2013

Would you take a punt on Gavin Henson?

Rather like Mrs Thatcher, Gavin Henson spectacularly divides opinion. He may never have broken any miners’ strikes, but when on song he has never had a problem in breaking down opposition backlines.

And while the Iron Lady was famously not for turning, the question for every Gav-watcher is whether the former Wales international has managed to perform a sharp U-turn in his off-field behaviour.

On too many occasions over the past decade, Henson has chased the headlines – or perhaps the headline writers have chased him. By throwing himself into reality TV shows, the Welshman has courted tabloid attention and allowed his focus on fulfilling his prodigious rugby talent to waver. And his behaviour at a number of previous clubs has proved that he can be the loosest of cannons.

Speaking after an incident in a nightclub two years ago that necessitated both a suspension and a club inquiry, Mourad Boudjellal, the president of Toulon, probably spoke for a number of rugby bosses when he said: “Henson has had an attitude which has been difficult to manage.”

So confirmation from Bath Rugby this week that they are holding talks with the pin-up boy of Welsh rugby was always going to raise eyebrows – elegantly trimmed or otherwise.

The response was immediate. Former Bath and England prop Gareth Chilcott popped up on the radio talking about Bath needing to impose a ‘zero tolerance’ policy should Henson sign. Under this approach, a clause would be worked into any contract that would allow Bath to ship him out at the first sign of indiscretion.

But before the moral panic sets in, let’s set a few things straight. Beneath all the reality TV performances and the hair products, few would question that Henson possesses a precious rugby gift. Indeed, The Rec has witnessed this in recent times. During Bath’s pre-season match with London Welsh in August, Henson played for a spell at fly-half, delivering a composed performance of elegant distribution.

And during his year at Welsh, there hasn’t been the slightest whiff of him causing trouble or controversy.

Moreover, when he was sacked by the Blues a year ago for an alcohol-related incident on a morning flight home from a game in Glasgow, even some team-mates were prepared to publicly criticise the decision, branding it heavy-handed.

Also, corners can be turned. Look at Harlequins and England scrum-half Danny Care. Eighteen months ago, Care seemed to get in trouble whenever he stepped out of his front door. Now he is keeping his nose clean and in the form of his life.

True, Gavin Henson has led a nomadic existence, and it might be a case of hope triumphing over experience to think that Bath can tame him. But Gary Gold and crew offer a no-nonsense set-up at Bath and are unlikely to brook any ego-propelled silliness. Signing Henson could turn out to be the daftest thing since flanker Mauro Bergamasco played scrum-half for Italy, but it could also turn out to be a masterstroke. Over to you, Gary.