Howley urges caution on Henson link
November 30, 2009
Gavin Henson has not been seen in a Wales shirt since the Six Nations showdown with Ireland in March © Getty Images
Rob Howley has played down the likelihood of Gavin Henson making surprise return to the international stage ahead of next year's Six Nations.
The Ospreys centre is currently on extended leave from the sport as he looks to regain full fitness after a series of injury set-backs with speculation suggesting the 27-year-old may never play again. The Ospreys and the player himself have also repeatedly denied rumours of his impending retirement.
Henson, capped 31 times, has not played for Wales since last season's 17-15 Six Nations defeat against Grand Slam champions Ireland at the Millennium Stadium but national coach Warren Gatland appeared to open the door for a swift return in the wake of his side's 33-12 mauling at the hands of Australia on Saturday.
"I haven't spoken to Gavin, but it would be fantastic to see him come back in," said Gatland. "It's not just his attacking ability, but his defensive qualities as well. He's a big, powerful rugby player. I haven't spoken to the Ospreys in terms of whether he is going to come back, but it would be fantastic for Gavin to come back and be available."
However, Howley has urged caution, adding, "At this moment in time Gavin is not in the talent pool available to us so it is up to him to make himself available for the Ospreys and that is a situation for the Ospreys and Gavin Henson to deal with.
"As national coaches we obviously respect players' decisions and what they decide to do in their careers and at the moment he is not available for selection."
Despite a faltering end of year campaign that also included defeat to New Zealand and far from impressive victories against Samoa and Argentina, Howley remains bullish about Wales' Six Nations chances.
"We will still look forward to the Six Nations with relish," said the former Wales skipper. "I think that we've have created an environment under Warren Gatland where the foundations for success are in place and now all we need to do is work hard and maintain our standards.
"We spoke to our players on Sunday morning about going back to the regions and being smart and intelligent players and it has to be done over a consistent period of time. The intensity of international rugby asks questions of that skill level, whether it is tactical or technical whether it is under fatigue or under pressure. I think we all need to learn and get better in terms of those experiences."
The next 12 months are set to be a pivotal period in Gatland's tenure with the side set to tackle New Zealand three times, South Africa twice and Australia on top of the latest battle for the Six Nations crown. But the challenge posed by the southern hemisphere giants is one that Howley and co are looking forward to.
"That is what is great about Warren Gatland as a coach," added Howley. "He wants us to be judged against the best and as coaches and players you learn against the best sides in world rugby. I think we're playing six games against the Tri-nations on top of the Six Nations and we'll continue to test ourselves against the best in the world because it is how you get better as a coach and player and a side."
Rob Howley is a Heineken ambassador. Heineken are proud to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Heineken Cup and title sponsor since its inception in 1995. www.heinekenrugby.co.uk