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Six Nations: Gifted, failed visit to Toulon, escapades galore, reality TV... Gavin Henson, itinerary of a Welsh star like no other

The life of Gavin Henson could have found its place in a long book of 400 pages, dotted with golden pages, others white, scratched and even torn.

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Six Nations: Gifted, failed visit to Toulon, escapades galore, reality TV... Gavin Henson, itinerary of a Welsh star like no other

The life of Gavin Henson could have found its place in a long book of 400 pages, dotted with golden pages, others white, scratched and even torn. Star of Welsh rugby in the last century, the former international (33 caps, 130 points) had a turbulent career. Described as “the best player in the world” according to his own words, but also as a genius or gifted by some, the native of Bridgend, a small town west of Cardiff, is undoubtedly one of the greatest waste of rugby history. Globe-trotter, lover of the night, eventful passage in Toulon, reality TV, itinerary of an exceptional player.

The peak of his career ended in 2010, after his long stint with the Welsh team Ospreys. His adventure with Saracens in England ended with three small matches and a completely failed comeback. Free from any contract, Henson landed overnight in Toulon. Mourad Boudjellal, former president of greater Toulon, recounts the arrival of the Welsh star for Le Figaro. “An agent told me about it. I took advantage of a void where no one wanted to sign him. It wasn't expensive. I told myself that if he became the player he was again, we were going to get a good deal. It was a bet. We had lunch together in Toulon before. I was surprised because, in this restaurant, everyone recognized him. He had left his mark on rugby.”

If his signing had created an impressive craze in France and across the Channel, the signing of the Welsh bad boy did not please everyone. “When I signed him in 2011, there was a very important player at the club who told me that if I signed him he was leaving. And he wasn't the smallest player... He told me: "If he signs, I'll leave Toulon...". I insist on the fact that he was not the smallest player so that posed a big problem for me. This player in question was just skipping him in training. He never made a pass at her. I even think that in the World Cup final or in the Top 14 final, if he had had to pass the ball to him to score and win the cup, he would not have done it. I went to the player who didn't want Henson and said "give him a chance", giving him all my gibberish. He said, “Okay, I’ll stay at the club. But for me, on the lawn, it doesn't exist...".

For his first match in France, Gavin Henson scored a try against Stade Français in the championship. At that time, the former Toulon president - fan of the legends of the Leek XV such as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and JPR Williams - believed in a rebirth of the versatile three-quarter. “I thought it was a successful bet. All the supporters were waiting for him, he was taking lots of photos… I told myself that we had found him. But I didn't anticipate what would happen next. I had some beginnings that I tried to round off but it was a wasted effort.”

Mourad Boudjellal started to get feedback from nightclubs: “He had discovered Toulon “by night”. I didn't give him an ultimatum because he had a fairly short contract. Many incidents happened. The evening of the victory at the Vélodrome, he alienated the entire group. He even ended up in the gutter... He used inappropriate words, there were players who didn't accept that and it ended badly. Following this event, Henson was fired by the RCT. But, for the ex-president, the former Welsh international hid “suffering”. “He’s not a bad boy. He had something to take care of. But the problem is, on the other hand, I didn't have a team of psychologists..."

The rest of his career looks like a nightmare. A first rebound in 2012 for Cardiff… Missed. Eight small matches and an incident on board a plane while drunk to close this first passage. He then returned to England to London Welsh, for one year, before finding a little more stability at Bath (2013-2015) then Bristol (2015-2017). A final lap of honor at the Newport Dragons to close an end of career during which he never regained the fullness of his talent. His trophy cabinet will, despite everything, remain full. Double winner of the Pro12 (competition now replaced by the United Rugby Championship), a final of the English championship in 2015, two Six Nations Tournaments (2005, 2008), a selection with the British and Irish Lions and, to crown all in all, the title of best young player in the world in 2001.

Besides that, Gavin Henson has often been compared to the English football star David Beckham and shared part of his life with the pop star Charlotte Church with whom he had two children. After his short stay in Toulon, the former Welsh star played the main role in the American reality TV show The Bachelor. “I am delighted to have been chosen for this casting because I think this is really the time for me to find a woman with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life,” he declared.

Off the radar, Gavin Henson now runs a bar and restaurant in the small village of St Brides Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales, with his wife Katie Wilson Mould. Even though he quit rugby, the former enfant terrible is one of around 300 former players who have sued governing bodies for neurological problems.

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