Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Davies brings `showpony' Henson in from the cold

AFP , CARDIFF

Gavin Henson lines up with his teammates at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on Feb. 26, 2005.

PHOTO: AFP

Gavin Henson is set to end his lengthy exile from Test rugby when Wales face world champions South Africa in Cardiff on Saturday with caretaker coach Nigel Davies convinced the Ospreys ace's current form lives up to the hype that has surrounded the midfielder's checkered career.

Henson's inclusion in the 1st XV means the 25-year-old will be making his first international start for more than a year, and only his second full Wales appearance since the Six Nations Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March 2005.

His performances that season made Henson, whose fondness for permatan and heavily gelled hair led some to deride him as a show-pony and others to praise his self-confidence, a popular figure with Wales fans.

However, a lengthy suspension was followed by injury before fresh questions regarding his match fitness led former coach Gareth Jenkins, who found the publicity created by Henson's relationship with singer Charlotte Church hard to take, to leave him out of his World Cup squad.

But Jenkins, having repeatedly explained away mediocre results with promises of better displays at the World Cup was sacked after Wales, minus Henson, failed to reach the quarter-finals following September's dramatic 38-34 defeat by Fiji in Nantes.

Former Ireland boss Warren Gatland is set to take over as Wales coach next month, leaving Davies in charge for this one-off match.

And Davies, having watched Henson's performance, albeit in a losing cause, during the Ospreys 26-18 defeat away to Gloucester in the European Cup on Friday, said he'd seen enough to convince him now was the right time to bring the player back into the Wales fold.

Hook's inclusion at No. 10 means former Wales captain Stephen Jones is on the bench. Meanwhile, in-form center Tom Shanklin moves out to the wing in place of the injured Shane Williams.

"Tom has played on the wing before," Davies said after announcing his team on Tuesday.

Only six players occupy the starting positions they filled against Fiji in what was Wales's last international -- wing Mark Jones, scrumhalf Dwayne Peel, prop Gethin Jenkins, locks Ian Evans and Alun-Wyn Jones and experienced flanker Colin Charvis.

There is a new face at fullback, with Llanelli's Morgan Stoddart handed a Test debut.

"We are facing the current world champions and it is obviously a tough prospect," Davies said. "But we are playing at home in front of a baying crowd of Welsh fans -- and we have a magnificent opportunity to make a statement that will reverberate around world rugby."

This match will also be South Africa's first since the World Cup, where they beat England 15-6 in the final, with Jake White set to coach the Springboks in a Test for the last time before he steps down next month.

White announced a much-changed team, with several senior players out with injury or otherwise unavailable.

Springboks

15 Ruan Pienaar, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Andre Pretorius, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 CJ van der Linde.

Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Wynand Olivier, 21 Akona Ndungane, 22 Conrad Jantjes.

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