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Rugby's First ROCK STAR - The Times, 4th June 2005

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ARTICLES:2005



Title: Q Rewind: Manic Street Preachers Meet Fidel Castro, 17 February 2001
Publication: The Times
Date: Saturday 4th June 2005
Writer: Nicky Wire


Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire has watched Gavin Henson grow into an electrifying performer on the big stage - with a lifestyle to match.

It's fair to say that the early Manic Street Preachers weren't too popular with rugby types. I wasn't built for rugby with my hair, my eyeliner and my mother's blouses, but that didn't prevent me from having a fanatical love of the game.

There are times as a Welshman when you can feel as if the game is being force fed to you, but if you learn a bit of give and take it grows into something beautiful.

When we took the triple crown in 1988 my passion for rugby really started to blossom. After that, Welsh rugby survived on pure talent for a decade. We could still surprise people but it became clear from English rugby that it was no longer enough. We were too small and almost naive. The application was missing and this is where Gavin Henson comes in, because he always had the talent and now he's found the application.

I've followed his career since he was world junior player in 2001. He had been through the Wales development sides from under-12 to under-19, so he knew where he was going from a young age, but like all Welsh players he struggled to come to terms with professionalism. For too long the maverick tendencies got in the way of talent. Now he has both in harness. He's a superbly fit and dedicated pro but he's also got this aura of genius. For pure talent he stands comparison with anyone around.

I recall in his debut against Romania he took one of their locks out straight away and got injured in the process. Then I saw him play for Swansea afterwards and he had a shocking game, but he looked the same as he does now - flash boots, spiky hair - except physically he's developed so much. Most English fans were unaware of this flamboyant kid we'd unearthed until the Six Nations. He wasn't superb throughout the tournament but he really turned it on when it mattered. For me the defining moment was when he picked up Mathew Tait and dumped him into the ground.

Here was the new English hope and he rubbed his nose in the dirt. I think that Tait will be back because he's equally brilliant but it was a massive statement from Henson. Suddenly we had someone who could dish it back.

Then there was the penalty goal. It wasn't just that he hit a 40-yarder, it was his reaction. There was no euphoria it was just, "Yeah, I've been sinking them all week". He has that sense of cool. He's an icon who crosses all the boundaries in the way that David Beckham did. He's got rock star quality and he's going out with one of the most eligible women in Britain. Image in sport is not a problem to me.

You have the Martin Johnsons at one end of the scale and at the other you can have the Gavin Hensons. I think that Jonathan Davies said, "Anyone who kicks in silver boots isn't worth worrying about", but that's what he's like. When he was in the dressing-room at 16, was he already thinking "I'll spike my hair up like Sid Vicious and wear silver boots"? That's pretty intriguing.

People go on about his relationship with Charlotte Church and I suppose that it could be destructive, but you should go with the flow when things feel right. He's headed for superstardom, whatever happens, but he seems intelligent - rugby players are as a rule. I believe that Charlotte is as real as he is. There's nothing manufactured about either of them, but because she is a personality she attracts a lot of criticism. As long as he plays well no one will care, but it becomes harder under the spotlight.

The weight of the past is crucial in Wales. Every time there's a problem the great names of Welsh rugby are recalled. They were world icons and it's a burden in some respects. No one has eclipsed what they achieved and how famous they were. But it's up to us to make our own heroes. That's how the Manics felt as a band. If there's nothing to inspire you then you have to do it for yourself. That's the good thing about Wales now. We've become a much more confident nation.

I'm looking forward to the Lions tour tremendously. Back in 1971 and 1974 the Welsh dominated the side and they played some of the most breathtaking rugby ever seen. This time there was some disgust in Wales about the number of Welsh players selected, and I share it - but my concern is that there were more Irish. We ran them off the park! Donncha O'Callaghan couldn't get in our starting line-up.

I respect what Sir Clive Woodward did with England but I hope that he doesn't go for recycling the ball too much. The Lions need to be more daring. They should offload more rather than go to the deck.

For all that, I doubt that Henson will start the first international. I think he'll probably be on the bench, but he can spark them, no question. Then his stature would be even greater. There's already genuine love and affection in Wales for him and it will spread. There's been a tendency for Welsh heroes to burn out down the years, Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas being the most obvious ones.

Wasted talent haunts the Welsh psyche, but Henson looks as if he could overturn the myth.