Salvage mission: Henson's final chance to rescue rugby career comes in Saracens clash
21:15 GMT, 5 October 2012
Gavin Henson's 'last chance' as a professional rugby player will begin in earnest in Oxford on Sunday, when he is pitched straight in at the deep end as London Welsh's playmaker against Saracens.
A week earlier than expected, the 30-year-old, double Grand Slam-winning Wales centre will don the Exiles No 10 shirt and make his first appearance for the club in the Aviva Premiership, having recovered from a fractured cheekbone.
That injury, sustained in a pre-season game against the Scarlets, delayed what is – by his own admission – a final opportunity to salvage his career, which once promised so much.
Kick-start: Gavin Henson will don the No 10 jersey for London Welsh against Saracens
When Henson lines up for the league's newcomers against the 2011 champions at the Kassam Stadium, he faces so much more than resolute opponents armed with a formidably stifling defence.
The game represents another moment of truth for him, against a club he played for in an abortive return from his prolonged sabbatical.
Since he wore the Saracens colours, he has tried and failed to resurrect his fortunes at Toulon in France, then back home in Wales, with Cardiff Blues.
On each occasion, fitness issues, fluctuating form and alcohol-related dramas have derailed his ambitions.
But he was presented with a shot at salvation by Lyn Jones – the man who oversaw his rise to prominence at the Ospreys and is now in charge of London Welsh's crusade to stay in the Premiership.
Having chosen to bring Henson straight into the Exiles XV in place of Gordon Ross, Jones said on Friday: 'I'm very happy for him and very comfortable in starting him in this game.
'Gavin really wanted to be involved and we decided that the sort of player he is, it is probably best if we get him into the game straightaway.'
Now that his high-profile summer signing is available again, Jones is confident he can deliver the goods for Welsh, adding: 'We've all witnessed Gavin's potential.
Early doors: Henson returns from injury a week ahead of schedule
'I would like to think that by November, he can be operating to the best of his ability. There's a long way to go, but we will give him as much chance to perform as possible. He will make mistakes, but among the mistakes there will be good bits, too.
'Gavin has been training really well and we've been giving him more responsibility within the squad, which he has enjoyed.'
In a club statement, Henson said: 'I am looking forward to making my first start for London Welsh in the Aviva Premiership. The boys have done really well in the first five games and I can't wait to start playing my part.'
Prior to the start of the season, Henson conceded that the Richmond-based Exiles had re-opened a door that he feared had been closed, leading to fears that his career was over.
Last chance saloon: Henson believed Cardiff Blues would be his last club
'I am very lucky to have a chance here,' he said. 'This is my last chance. I thought Cardiff would be my last club, and it was going to be, but I couldn't end my career like that.
'This move has kept me in the game. I was more or less finished rugby-wise. I thought that was it but I felt I had unfinished business.'
Leinster confirmed that their Kiwi coach, Joe Schmidt, signed a one-year contract extension, which will keep him in Dublin until the end of next season.
Retaining the services of the 46-year-old, who has presided over back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs, is a major coup for the Irish province.
AVIVA PREMIERSHIP WEEKEND GUIDE
Exeter v Harlequins (Saturday: Sandy Park 3pm):
Exeter shake-up sees debut for ex-Wallaby lock Dean Mumm.
Flanker Ben White, hooker Simon Alcott and fly-half Gareth Steenson also play. Quins name Danny Care and Joe Marler on bench. PREDICTION: Away win.
Gloucester v Bath (Saturday: Kingsholm 2.15pm, LIVE on ESPN):
England No 8 Ben Morgan returns for Gloucester, who have All Blacks arrival Jimmy Cowan on the bench.
Bath move Stephen Donald to fly-half after Olly Barkley's departure to Racing Metro.
PREDICTION: Home win.
London Irish v Northampton (Saturday: Madejski Stadium 3pm): Struggling Irish have lost captain Declan Danaher, who has a jaw injury.
Marcel Garvey moves to back row. Northampton captain Dylan Hartley also misses out due to a facial injury.
PREDICTION: Away win.
London Wasps v Worcester (Sunday: Adams Park 3pm):
Wasps look to ex-Wales fly-half Stephen Jones to lead a back line featuring wing Tom Varndell and fit-again Hugo Southwell.
Worcester give ex-Northampton centre Jon Clarke a first start.
PREDICTION: Home win
London Welsh v Saracens (Sunday: Kassam Stadium 2.15pm, LIVE on ESPN):
Injury-hit Exiles make six changes, including call-ups for hooker Dan George and centre James Lewis.
Saracens' rotation policy brings starts for Charlie Hodgson and John Smit.
PREDICTION: Away win
See the full Aviva Premiership table here