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The brutal moment when Saracens made Gavin Henson feel embarrassed

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

With it being Wales versus England week in Cardiff, Gavin Henson, the penalty hero of the 2005 Six Nations encounter, was always going to crop up in the conversation somewhere along the line. That appearance has happened in The Times where the current owner of The Fox pub in St Brides Major near Bridgend regaled reporter Owen Slot with numerous entertaining memories from a career that was lived out in media headlines.

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There were 33 Wales caps between 2001 and 2011, including two Grand Slam wins, and a single cap on the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour, but there were also many club pitstops and his recollection of his short-lived time at Saracens stood out in his latest rollicking interview.

Henson only ever played three times for the London club he signed for in the 2010/11 season after taking a break from the game. It didn’t go well and he was to finish that comeback season at Toulon before heading to the World Cup in New Zealand with Wales.

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Part of the problem at Saracens was that Henson struggled to fit in, a situation encapsulated by the story he told at his own expense about being embarrassingly caught out by boss Mark McCall just a few weeks into his brief stint at the club.

“Mark McCall, the coach, pulled me out in front of the whole squad,” began Henson. “He said: ‘Right, Gav, I want you to name every player.’ They knew I couldn’t because I always said: ‘Hi pal, hi mate.’ It was bad. I’d been there two weeks, I should have got to know the names, but I hadn’t watched rugby for a long time.

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“I got about two people right out of a squad of about 45. I got David Strettle. I don’t know who else I got. They found it hilarious. It was back to me being an introvert. I didn’t like that. So that was embarrassing. That environment didn’t work for me. It was like extroverts personified. I get that but I was like: ‘I need to run a million miles.’”

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Henson also recalled his bizarre dawn wrestling sessions with Brendan Venter, the then Saracens director of rugby who coaxed him to return to playing after his sabbatical. “Brendan Venter – wow, what a guy,” enthused Henson.

“He had this perception of me; I’ve been on Strictly (Come Dancing) and it’s: ‘Who is this f***ing idiot?’ He thought I was soft. He had me in every morning, 6.30am. Wrestling. I had to wrestle him. We were outside, it was freezing, on this artificial pitch just with a t-shirt and shorts with the fitness coach on a stopwatch.

“He says: ‘Go.’ We’re on our knees for a minute of wrestling. Then he blows the whistle and I’ve got to go and do shuttles; he rests, I come back in and we wrestle again. He comes in with his head, headbutts me, splits my eye and we’re wrestling like this every morning for four weeks. Are you serious? So yes, I didn’t last long there.”

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