Having graced TV screens on a number of reality shows, it is easy to forget the integral contribution Gavin Henson made to the Wales team that secured Grand Slam successes in 2005 and 2008.
The now 38-year-old made just 15 Guinness Six Nations appearances during a 10-year international career, but he more than left his mark on the Championship.
Making his debut in the competition as a sprightly 23-year-old, the former Ospreys man earned a Lions call up off the back of his performances that helped his country claim the famous trophy for the first time in 11 years, and a first Grand Slam since 1978.
And three years later – following form and fitness issues – Henson emerged revitalised under new head coach Warren Gatland, starting every game of Wales’ second Grand Slam winning campaign in four years.
Though perhaps lacking long-term consistency, Henson’s telling contribution during a landmark period for Welsh rugby proves his worth as a contender for the Greatest XV, and he is rightly considered one of the most talented men to pull on the famous red jersey this century.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Gavin Henson.
PATH TO THE TOP
Born in the South Wales town of Pencoed in 1982 to a family with a rich rugby history – both his grandfather and father played for Maesteg – Henson started making waves in the game as a teenager and was presented with the IRB Young Player of the Year award in 2001, having made his Test debut against Japan in the summer of that year.
Having started his next international against Romania and then scored a try in a Wales A game against Uruguay, Henson was beginning to raise eyebrows in the rugby world, but after bouncing around the backline for a few years, it wasn’t until 2004 that he truly nailed down a starting place.
After impressing in Wales’ autumn internationals against New Zealand and South Africa late that year, Henson started at inside centre for his team’s 2005 Six Nations opener against England, where he produced a career-defining and life-changing performance.
Welsh resilience repelled English flair on a cold February day and Henson was in the thick of it. His 48-metre winning penalty is iconic, as are his two immense hits on England debutant Mathew Tait.
With his slick hair, boyish good looks and thunderous right boot, Hensonmania quickly took off after that man-of-the-match performance. And it didn’t stop there.
After helping his team defeat the Red Rose for the first time since 1999, he kept his place for the rest of the series, including a 24-18 win at defending Grand Slam champions France in Round 3, and a 32-20 Round 5 win against Ireland in Cardiff which sealed glory.
BACK TO HIS BEST
After making such a big impact on the Six Nations stage, Henson was named in the Lions squad for the 2005 tour of New Zealand, but was reduced to just one Test appearance due to injury.
A mixture of injuries and off-field issues meant Henson missed the 2007 World Cup, but he was recalled to the team ahead of the 2008 Championship and wasted no time in proving his worth.
Henson started all five matches and was part of a solid backline that conceded just two tries all Championship – the tightest there had ever been in the Six Nations – as Wales roared to another Grand Slam.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Following the 2008 triumph, Henson made just five further Wales Test appearances – and three in the Six Nations. They all came in 2009 when Wales finished fourth, with Ireland clinching the Grand Slam in dramatic fashion in Cardiff in Round 5.
Having struggled with injury, Henson took a self-imposed break from the game and featured in a number of celebrity shows on TV, while the break-up of his relationship with singer Charlotte Church made headlines.
After leaving club side Ospreys, Henson returned to rugby with Saracens in 2010, and went on to have spells with Toulon, Cardiff Blues, London Welsh, Bath Rugby, Bristol and most recently, Dragons.
He didn’t do enough to earn a first-ever spot in a World Cup squad following an international recall in 2011, but although questions are often asked about what else Henson might have achieved in his career, on his day he was undoubtedly one of the hottest prospects in European rugby.
And, for that glorious spring of 2005, he remains a true Wales legend.