Wales head coach Warren Gatland has told Gavin Henson he can become the best inside centre in world rugby.
While James Hook and Shane Williams have stolen the headlines in recent weeks, Gatland felt Henson has been an unsung hero in Wales’ opening RBS 6 Nations Championship victories over England and Scotland.
The 26-year-old never found favour with the previous national coach and made just one start under Gareth Jenkins and missed the World Cup.
But Henson has made an immediate impression on Gatland, who is convinced he can rival the likes of Australia’s superstar centre Matt Giteau.
“Gavin has been fantastic in our first two games but I spoke with him at the weekend and told him that I still feel there’s another level in him,” Gatland said.
“I said to him: ‘You can be not just the best player in the northern hemisphere in your position, but the best inside centre in the world’.
“He’s big, he’s strong and he has fantastic skills, he is quick and he can defend. He has everything you are looking for in a midfield player.
“He’s a touch quiet off the field and introverted. I don’t care what he’s like off the field but we would like him to be more extroverted on the field.
“We are trying to encourage him to talk more and take responsibility. We’d like him to kick a bit more and are encouraging him to step up to first receiver.
“But I am delighted with where he is in terms of his game.”
Henson has long been a player to split opinion. Those who remain unconvinced of his true potential argue there is too much of the show pony about him, that he shines when the going suits but does not work hard enough around the field.
But Gatland looked to debunk that myth at the first opportunity, and highlighted Henson’s performance against Scotland last weekend as evidence of his all-round, often unseen, contribution.
“Coaches have the luxury of going back and watching a game on video nowadays, and I thought Gavin’s performance against Scotland, in terms of how hard he worked, was magnificent,” Gatland explained.
“He created the first try by working his butt off to create the extra pair of hands we needed to put Lee Byrne through the hole.
“It’s not just Gavin’s work around the ball that you have to take into account, it’s his work off the ball.
“He chases and kicks harder than anyone else, he works overtime to get back to support when the opposition boot the ball to us and he works hard to help us with the pattern we are trying to create.”