Gatland defends handing Henson a Wales lifeline

WALES coach Warren Gatland has defended the controversial selection of Gavin Henson in his 35-man squad for next month’s Six Nations.

Centre Henson is set for a return to the international fold despite his indifferent club form, which has seen him dropped from the Cardiff Blues squad ahead of this weekend’s decisive Heineken Cup group match against Racing Metro.

The 29-year-old, who has made only two Test appearances in the last three years, missed last autumn’s World Cup with a broken wrist but has earned a recall at the expense of veteran fly-half Stephen Jones. Sam Warburton, the driving force behind Wales’ impressive campaign in New Zealand, will captain the squad.

“We have had to strike a balance with this squad,” said Gatland, whose side face Ireland in their Six Nations opener on 5 February in Dublin. “The majority are those players who excelled during the Rugby World Cup. But we are also taking the chance to look at one or two youngsters.

“We have kept a couple of older heads and we have injuries, with Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Turnbull, Rob McCusker and Luke Charteris all unavailable to us, but the emphasis on development and planning for the future is there for everyone to see.”