Scotland v Wales, Six Nations Championship, February 8
Henson injury curse strikes again
February 6, 2009
Gavin Henson has been ruled out of Wales' Six Nations opener with a calf strain © Getty Images
Wales have been dealt a blow ahead of their opening Six Nations game with Scotland at Murrayfield after influential centre Gavin Henson was ruled out with a calf strain sustained in training earlier this week.
Henson, 27, has not played for Wales since their final game of last season's championship, with Achilles and ankle injuries ruling him out of contention for both their summer tour of South Africa and the autumn internationals. His place in the side will be taken by the experienced Tom Shanklin, who will link up with his club-mate Jamie Roberts. Henson's fellow Osprey Andrew Bishop takes a spot on the bench.
Henson has never lost a Six Nations game that he has started, and his direct running and playmaking ability will be sorely missed by a Wales side looking for only their second win at Murrayfield since 1985.
Warren Gatland's men head to the Scottish captial knowing that they face a stern task in order to get their title defence off to a flying start.
"We are very aware of how deep those (Scottish) guys dig in terms of responding to challenges," said Gatland. "I have vivid memories of a number of times when England have gone up there for Six Nations glory or been favourites to win the Calcutta Cup, and then come back having been beaten by a dogged Scottish side. We've got to keep reminding ourselves of that.
"We performed pretty well in the autumn Tests this season, but you can't say we are overwhelming (Six Nations) favourites. Normally, every Six Nations campaign, people talk about France or England being favourites and the Celts making up the numbers just to see who is going to be the best of the Celts. That has normally been the trend, but this year it is something different."
Wales' resurgence under Gatland has been well documented, and even shorn of a leading light such as Henson they will have belief in themselves as a squad, a fact that was not apparent 18 months ago.
"We've weeded out a bit of the rubbish that was in the squad before," he said. "And we've got a group of players that are working hard for each other and get on really well. They are honest when they get on the park, and they give 100%. I don't know if there are any special formulas - it's just about being honest. That is the key to it.
"We want the players to question us, to disagree with us, to challenge us. That is how we improve as coaches. We are going to continue to do that to them as players. We are going to question them and challenge them and try to make them better players. We've got an environment where coaches challenge each other. We have a few disagreements and arguments, but, once a decision is made, we support each other 100%."
Henson's injury will be reassessed ahead of the vital clash with England at the Millennium Stadium on February 14, with Gatland hoping the he will be able to see the Henson-Roberts axis in action for the first time. Henson's Achilles problem prevented the combination from being tried against the Springboks in November, and is on the shelf again as Henson misses his seventh successive Test.