Gavin Henson admits he needs to ‘get fitter’ after low-key rugby league debut

Ian Laybourn, PA
·3-min read

Gavin Henson says he will learn from his low-key introduction to rugby league and accepts he needs to get fitter.

The former Wales fly-half, who turned 39 in February, struggled to make an impact on his debut for West Wales Raiders as they went down 58-4 to Widnes in the first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli.

“I learned a lot,” Henson told BBC Wales. “It’s the first time I played the game. I watched it but there’s nothing quite like playing.

West Wales Raiders v Widnes Vikings – Betfred Challenge Cup – First Round – Stebonheath Park
Gavin Henson attempts a conversion during the Betfred Challenge Cup match at Stebonheath Park (David Davies/PA)

“It’s so relentless, it’s non-stop. I need to get fitter, basically. I think I did all right, I just couldn’t offer much because it was a very tiring game.”

The third-tier part-timers were outclassed by the seven-time cup winners but demonstrated plenty of spirit after being forced to play for most of the match with 12 men following the dismissal of centre Jamie Murphy for a dangerous tackle.

“I think we started well,” Henson added. “We were competing with them, finishing our sets, but losing a man killed the game for us.

“But it’s our first game of the season, emotions are running high and these things happen.

“We’ll take a lot out of it. It was like a training game in the end. The main thing for us is the league and we’ve got six weeks before that starts.”

The Raiders threatened an upset when they opened the scoring through Fijian winger Uraia Naulusala but trailed 28-4 at half-time and in the end conceded 11 tries.

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Henson, who won 33 caps for Wales and represented the British and Irish Lions in a near 20-year career in union which ended when he was released by the Dragons in 2019, was given the job of kicking for the League One club.

He gained 50 metres with a raking touch-finder and put Widnes full-back Jack Owens under pressure with a towering kick as the Raiders enjoyed most of the early play that produced the game’s first try.

Henson, who admitted to feeling nervous ahead of his first game for nearly two years, took the restarts and was narrowly wide with a conversion attempt but produced a series of errors as fatigue set in.

West Wales Raiders v Widnes Vikings – Betfred Challenge Cup – First Round – Stebonheath Park
Rangi Chase is tackled by Calum O’Neill, who was later taken to hospital with a head injury (David Davies/PA)

It was the first game for more than 12 months for both clubs and Raiders coach Aaron Wood will feel he has much to build on.

The Raiders suffered a humiliating home defeat to amateur club Underbank Rangers in last year’s competition and in 2018 suffered a world-record 144-0 defeat by York.

Wood will be especially encouraged by the debut of Henson’s half-back partner Rangi Chase, the former England international who showed a series of his trademark deft handling skills, including an overhead pass that created Naulusala’s try.