THE spectre of Gavin Henson continues to hang over Welsh rugby after he featured in a marketing campaign for the new Wales kit yesterday.
The 28-year-old was pictured on a giant banner on the side of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff just hours after it had been confirmed that he will appear in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing programme.
The Ospreys centre has been on indefinite unpaid leave since last summer and has not played since suffering an ankle injury in the region’s Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final defeat against Gloucester in March 2009.
But Henson, who has won 31 caps and was an integral part of the Grand Slam successes of 2005 and 2008, had said earlier this week he was desperate to play at next year’s World Cup and was planning a return to the game.
However, his involvement in the TV series, of which former England internationals Matt Dawson and Austin Healey are ex-contestants, could mean he will not be able to make a return to rugby until December, which would leave him with a limited amount of time to prove his fitness and form to Wales coach Warren Gatland.
In a press release to mark the start of the Welsh Rugby Union’s three-year sponsorship deal with Admiral insurance, Henson, who has a year remaining on his current Ospreys contract, said: “When the Welsh Rugby Union asked me to be one of the first to put on the new kit to help with their marketing campaign I had no hesitation. As a passionate Welshman I have always felt a great sense of pride whenever I have had the privilege of being able to wear the national jersey and this occasion was no different.”
The two-time Grand Slam winner said earlier in the week: “I’ve never been to a Rugby World Cup which is coming up in 2011 and I’m thinking about training for that. Hopefully I can get back into rugby, do well and get into the World Cup squad. It’s the one thing that is not on my CV.”
The decision to use Henson to help launch the new kit will further increase speculation over if and when he will pull on the red shirt in a Test again, but WRU Group chief executive Roger Lewis simply said the union were using stars “past and present” to launch the kit with the likes of captain Ryan Jones, wing Shane Williams and centre Jamie Roberts also on hand.
Lewis said: “Everyone in Welsh rugby is first and foremost a fan, we watch it, play it and work within its structure out of our love for the game and the national jersey is symbolic of our pride. Every Welsh fan has a right to own and wear the national jersey with pride, just like Gavin does in our images, and we have also asked other significant stars of Welsh rugby’s past and present to join our campaign.”
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