UPDATE: Following this morning’s meeting by the Blues management, Gavin Henson has been dismissed from the club with immediate effect. Full statement here.
If you made the assumption after hearing the news of Gavin Henson’s latest escapade on Saturday night and believed it to be an April Fools, you are forgiven. After all, surely it was beyond all levels of rationale and possibility that Gavin Henson would have managed to take what felt like his final opportunity in the sport and toss it away.
Yet waking up on Sunday morning, disbelief turned to both disdain and incredulity. To recap, after Cardiff were embarrassingly hammered by Glasgow, a result that had made their prospects of taking part in the end of season playoffs highly unlikely, Henson consequently headed out into the Scottish city and drank until boarding the 7am flight the following morning back to the Welsh capital.
On board, he continued to drink into a state, before allegedly throwing ice cubes around the cabin and when asked by the airline staff to stop, became violent and aggressive. As news started to filter out about the latest escapade, Cardiff’s action was swift in suspending him immediately, with the management team of Gareth Baber & Justin Burrell sitting down this morning to work out what to do with him.
Henson said the following in a statement: “I stupidly carried on drinking during the flight, for which I am truly embarrassed. I can see that drinking and behaving inappropriately on that flight as a professional sportsman at 7am has caused offence to members of the public, the Flybe airline staff and passengers. I remain fully focused and committed to Cardiff Blues and I hope they can accept my apology.”
What is important to remember is that this is Henson’s second alcohol-related disciplinary faux-pas within a year. After he made what appeared to be an ambitious move to Toulon following a bizarre six weeks at Saracens, Henson’s stint with the French juggernaut fell apart after only his second appearance for the club. Taunting Jonny Wilkinson and captain Joe Van Niekerk, plus brawling with scrum-half Matt Henjak on a night out meant that the mercenary was forced to pack his bags once more.
Although apologetic and eager to be kept on at the club, insulting the club’s figurehead in Van Niekerk and their beloved son in Wilkinson was both foolish and offensive. Henson only days earlier had praised the club and atmosphere he found himself in, citing it as a springboard for his comeback. The dialogue was similar on his return to Wales this year, where to much surprise after he appeared on reality TV show The Bachelor he was picked up by Cardiff and gradually regained his fitness.
Now less than halfway into an eight month deal, the wheels are off again. At 30, joining Cardiff was the final chance for Henson to somehow come close to maximising what appeared to be extraordinary potential when he tore up the 2005 Six Nations in his debut championship. For esteemed Welsh internationals such as Ryan Jones to come out in his defence speaks volumes of the admiration held amongst Henson’s peers of his talent.
It has now been just under 18 months since Henson officially left the Ospreys, though he had spent a similar period of time out of the game with injuries preceding that. Since his departure, reality TV has played its part in the circus (Henson also participated in Strictly Come Dancing), but the primary concern has been alcohol.
An unashamedly eager desire for the limelight, at times fuelled by drink, has been the masquerade covering up Henson’s damaging insecurities. No one is a saint when it comes to alcohol, but to act in that manner whilst on professional duty with not just one of your clubs, but two, both at times when you are playing for your career is either unreservedly and idiotically stupid, or tragic and a desperate sign for help (depending on your level of cynicism). As Sunday passed and reflection set in, the overwhelming urge was for the latter and the conclusion that Henson sorely needs help.
If Cardiff conclude that their association with him must come to an end, it will be his third acrimonious split with a leading European side in 18 months. If he does stay, he will have to receive some form of psychological counselling regarding his reaction to alcohol. When fully fit both in mind and body, his natural talent is impossible to ignore, with some of the finest hands and vision that Wales have arguably every produced, not to mention a monster boot.
Whether he deserves another chance is up for debate, but what no one can disagree with is that through a series of tumultuous events, what could have been an outstanding career has been wasted, both by injury and ego. That is a bitter taste that when Henson looks back, no drink will cure.
by Ben Coles
The Gavin Henson Story:
September 2003 – 21 year old Henson makes his regional debut for the Ospreys
February 2005 – After impressive in the Autumn internationals, Henson has a superb Six Nations debut against England, landing big kicks and putting in that tackle on Mathew Tait. Wales go on to win the Grand Slam, the centre later releasing his first book in which he heavily criticises the Lions tour to New Zealand
February 2008 – Henson missed the 2007 Rugby World Cup, but returns for the Six Nations, again winning the Grand Slam
October 2010 – After 18 months off including a stint on Strictly Come Dancing, Henson signs for Saracens
February 2011 – Five games in, Henson is released from his contract and joins Toulon as a medical joker
April 2011: – Henson has an altercation with team-mates in a nightclub and is suspended. He is released a month later at the end of the season
October 2011: – After playing for Wales in the summer, as well as staring in The Bachelor, Henson joins Cardiff Blues on an 8 month deal
April 1st 2012: – Henson is suspended by Cardiff after an altercation on a flight back form Glasgow after drinking heavily
April 2nd 2012: – Cardiff Blues sack Henson with immediate effect