Gavin Henson used to sprinkle a bit of stardust over Welsh rugby. But older, wiser, and more mature, it will be more mundane qualities he brings to the Dragons – and that’s just what is required, says Robin Davey.
Amid all the uncertainties surrounding Welsh rugby right now – will it be a Pro12 or a Pro14? Will the South Africans join? Where will Leigh Halfpenny end up? – there is one sure thing.
Gavin Henson is returning.
Yes, the one-time poster boy of Welsh rugby whose torso once lit up the front of the then-named Millennium Stadium is back and but a month away from a return to the fold after years spent wandering around France, England and reality TV.
In what must be the final stages of a career which has delivered a great deal but could have been even more fruitful, Henson has joined up with the re-branded Dragons and is sure to be their main figurehead in the season drawing ever nearer.
Will he still be a bobby dazzler? Is the charisma still there? Will he lighten up his new playing base at Rodney Parade and Welsh rugby in general? Will he even add to his 33 caps? All questions fans are asking and eagerly awaiting the answers.
From what I understand, Henson has been a paragon up at the Dragons training base at Ystrad Mynach, knuckling down under new head coach Bernard Jackman and reacting well to the regime the Irishman has introduced.
He has declared he has not given up on a return to the Wales squad and though that seems a tall order, who is to say he won’t succeed?
But showing a welcome maturity, he also knows he has been brought in to the Dragons fold to help develop a series of exciting young backs and bring them on even further after some stagnated last season.
Hallam Amos, for example, didn’t even play after suffering another serious shoulder injury when he might well have expected to be a Wales regular, never mind leading the way for the Dragons.
Fellow wing Ashton Hewitt was another whose season was a huge disappointment. After promising so much and coming to the attention of interim Wales coach Rob Howley, he suffered a bout of concussion and failed to recover sufficiently to make a return.
Both will surely feature strongly for the Dragons and will hope to make their mark for Wales too, especially Amos.
And then there is centre Tyler Morgan, another youngster who promised a great deal but failed to really deliver last season after he, like Amos, suffered a major shoulder injury.
He did come back but failed to show the promise which marked his initial step up to the senior ranks.
Jack Dixon is yet another Dragons youngster who has shown considerable promise – hailed as the new Jamie Roberts because of his similar build and blockbusting style – but he also fell away.
Amos, already proven to a degree, Hewitt, Morgan and Dixon are all players who can ignite the Dragons back play and in some cases go even further, but they badly need a guiding hand, some experience to go alongside them.
Henson will surely be just the player to fill that role, as well as still managing to further his own career, while fellow Dragons newcomer Zane Kirchner, the former Springbok signed from Leinster, will also be a catalyst.
At this stage it isn’t certain whether Henson will play at outside-half, centre or even full-back. It could be that a ball-playing No.12 is his best role, but despite the promise of young Dragons 10s Angus O’Brien and Arwel Robson, in particular, 10 is the spot Henson could well occupy.
The smoothness of his play, the timing of his passing, and his general encouragement have all been in evidence at the Dragons training base. He may be 35 now, but he still has an important role to fulfil on his return to Welsh rugby.
For those expecting further signings at the Dragons, now the WRU has taken them over and provided some much needed stability, that won’t happen – not yet anyway, for two reasons.
The WRU are not allowed to plough money into signings by any region under the terms of the RSA agreement and Jackman has vowed to give all the Dragons squad an opportunity before making any decisions on recruitment.
And money for any new players who may eventually arrive will almost certainly have to come from outside investment or from members of a new board which has yet to be installed.
Meanwhile, progress is being made on a new hybrid pitch with the same company which installed the Principality Stadium pitch doing the work, which should bring an end to all the flooding problems.
So, a great deal is happening at Rodney Parade after years of neglect -and Gavin Henson will be right at the centre of an exciting new era.
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