By Michael Moynihan
WELSH rugby pin-up Gavin Henson has offered an olive branch to Brian O'Driscoll ahead of Wales' Six Nations clash with Ireland on Sunday at Lansdowne Road.
The Wales and Ospreys star, who starts on the bench, accused O'Driscoll of gouging him during last year's Grand Slam decider. That was just one revelation in Henson's controversial autobiography; he also claimed that O'Driscoll abused him verbally towards the end of the Ireland-Wales clash, when the Ireland captain felt Henson had tried to foot-trip Geordan Murphy.
"Brian is a quality player and I was lucky enough to play with him over on the Lions tour," Henson said. "Any argument between us has been built up to something that it's not in the papers. He was our captain and he's a world-class player, and I've been telling the other boys in the team what he was like and how good he was."
Henson's return to the Welsh fold was awaited with interest also. His autobiography outlined his unhappiness with players qualifying to play for Wales under the residence rule, and when the ghost-writer of his biography attended a press conference ahead of the Wales-Scotland clash earlier this month, members of the Welsh squad boycotted the event.
However, yesterday Henson said the reception he'd received from his teammates had been a warm one.
"It's been great to meet up with the boys again, no-one has changed, it's been brilliant and they've accepted me back in like normal - like any other player."
Meanwhile Martin Johnson has urged England to ignore the style critics and concentrate on taking their brand of "winning rugby" into tomorrow's Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.
England head to Murrayfield on the back of four wins from five Tests this season but Andy Robinson's men have still fielded criticism for their reliance on a powerful pack and a subsequent lack of adventure.
But Johnson, England's World Cup-winning captain, was never one to put style ahead of substance and fails to understand why anyone would lay into a side that has struck upon a winning formula.
"It's good to see England playing to their strengths and not trying to play a game just for the sake of it," said Johnson.
"Rugby is purely about winning the game and you play the way you believe will get you the win with the team you've got. Nothing else should really matter.
"I'm concerned about people putting the emphasis on style. You win the game by the best means you think you have available.
Head coach Andy Robinson repeatedly counters his critics by detailing how England's 10 tries in their first two RBS 6 Nations Championship games have come from a variety of different sources.
It has taken England until the last quarter to see off both Wales and Italy - but Johnson was "amazed" and disappointed by some of the reaction to the hard-fought victory in Rome.
He believes England are gaining ideal preparation for next year's World Cup defence.
"I think people get carried away by the idea that if it looks great, it is great," said Johnson.
"The tries against Italy and against Wales came from direct rugby, from playing to their strengths.
"Italy are a good physical team who defended very well for the majority of the game and did not give England chances to kick penalties and get away from them.
"It was a good, tough game to watch and England probably got more out of that as a team than by winning by 60 points or more.
"If England had spun the ball out to the wings and played some fantastic rugby and scored tries easily, as maybe we have in the past, people might say they were great.
"But that doesn't win you tight Test matches, which you have to do to be successful in the biggest competitions."
An England victory at the weekend would leave Robinson's men two wins away from a Grand Slam - but there will be no talk of such achievements in the red rose camp.
After Scotland, the unpredictable French lie in wait in Paris before England round off their campaign at home to Ireland.
But Johnson can see England potentially slipping up in all three - and that would leave Robinson's men no better off than they were last year.
"I thought at the start of the season there were a lot of question marks against some teams, but now the Scotland v England game is a lot harder game than it was two or three weeks ago," Johnson warned.
"The same with Ireland coming to Twickenham. They tried to play a very open, wide game against France and it cost them.
"But if things had gone only slightly differently for them and they'd scored a try early on the game would have been very different, so they're definitely dangerous.
"Obviously France away are always a challenge. I'm relishing the games. They're all real challenges and England have a chance of getting beaten in any one of those if they don't play well."