Scotland v Wales, Six Nations Championship, February 7
Fresh Henson injury scare for Wales
February 4, 2009
Scrum-half Mike Phillips will return to Wales colours against the Scots this weekend © Getty Images
Wales centre Gavin Henson has suffered a fresh injury blow on the eve of this year's Six Nations opener against Scotland on Sunday.
Henson, who has not played for Wales since last year's Grand Slam-clinching victory over France, was named in coach Warren Gatland's line-up for the Murrayfield clash earlier today. However, the 27-year-old remains a doubt for the game after suffering a tightening of a calf muscle in training yesterday.
The news could scupper Gatland's plan - for the second time this season - of pairing Ospreys star Henson with 6ft 4ins Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts. Henson did not train with the squad today and a decision on his fitness is set to be made on Friday.
Henson has missed Wales' last six Tests, initially because of an ankle injury and then a long-standing Achilles' tendon problem he aggravated before the autumn series opener against South Africa.
Gatland had hoped to field Henson and Roberts for the Springboks match in early November, yet his plan collapsed at base camp when Henson withdrew 24 hours before kick-off.
"Gavin just felt his calf tightening in training," said Gatland. "He will have some treatment, there is a day off tomorrow, and when he comes in on Friday we will make a decision.
"We are not going to wait like we did in the autumn until the day of the match. It's only fair, in the first game, we make the call on Friday. If Gavin is not right, Tom (Shanklin) will come in and probably go to 13, Jamie move to 12 and Andrew Bishop brought in as bench cover.
"There is no point training on it and making it a major problem that would keep him out for six or eight weeks. We are being precautionary at the moment, but if it is still tight on Friday and it's not right, we will pull him."
Henson's scheduled return is one of three changes from the side that beat Australia 21-18 just under 10 weeks ago.
He replaces Shanklin, with Roberts moving to outside centre, while 20-year-old Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny makes his Six Nations debut and Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips returns after recovering from a major knee injury that required two operations.
Phillips, whose last Wales appearance also came against France last March, takes over from the injured Gareth Cooper, who is due to undergo minor knee surgery. Gloucester scrum-half Cooper is expected to be sidelined for a fortnight, meaning he could also miss the Millennium Stadium clash with England on Saturday week.
Halfpenny starts, having shone during the autumn, with Scarlets speedster Mark Jones still recovering from appendix surgery.
Assessing his hoped for midfield partnership, Gatland added, "The exciting thing about the two of them is their size and physicality, for a start. They are both big, powerful men, both over 100 kilograms. For any international team, having two midfielders like that is pretty exciting.
"We just want to see if the combination does work. It's all very well having them on attack, but defensively they are going to have to be pretty sound as well. Gavin has got some lovely touches at 12, and Jamie runs some nice lines off him. If you are an opposition 10, you don't particularly want one or both of those guys coming down your channel.
"Jamie had been playing on the wing for the Blues, even though he was regarded as a full-back. We picked him in the squad, and I remember turning around to Rob Howley (Wales attack coach) during one of the training sessions and saying I thought he would make a really good midfield player.
"That was 12 months ago, and when we had an opportunity to do that in South Africa last summer, we thought he did really well. The pleasing thing is the Blues have picked up on that, played him in midfield and Jamie has gone from strength to strength."
Title holders Wales are favourites to land a second successive Six Nations crown, but their opening fixture is fraught with danger. Wales have only toppled the Scots in Edinburgh twice since 1985, while their last trip north two years ago saw them produce a listless display in suffering a 21-9 defeat.
"The Scots will be looking forward to taking us on," said Gatland. "And if we take the challenge lightly, we will be playing straight into their hands. They are a much-improved outfit over the last 12 months, and they have the talent and the ability to turn teams over."
Wales team to play Scotland in the Six Nations Championship at Murrayfield on Sunday, February 8 (kick-off 3pm):
L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues).