Gavin Henson’s rugby league debut ends in heavy defeat for West Wales Raiders

Ian Laybourn, PA
·3-min read

Gavin Henson experienced a low-key debut in rugby league as his West Wales Raiders team suffered a 58-4 defeat by Widnes in the first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli.

The former Wales fly-half, who turned 39 in February, struggled to make an impact for the third-tier part-timers, who 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.

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 to the seven-time cup winners.

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 (PA Images/David Davies)

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 1 club.

He gained 50 metres with a raking touchfinder 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 re-starts and was narrowly wide with a conversion attempt but produced a series of errors as fatigue set in.

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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.

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)

Widnes captain Owens moved into 10th place in the club’s all-time point-scoring list with a hat-trick of tries and a 26-point haul, while former St Helens centre Steve Tyrer marked the start of his second spell with the Vikings with three tries.

The only disappointment for the visitors was an injury to loose forward Calum O’Neill, who was carried off on a stretcher after a head knock and taken to hospital.

Widnes were twice reduced to 12 men, with Danny Craven and Will Tilleke sin-binned, while the Raiders finished the game with 11 after losing hooker Daf Phillips to injury with no further interchanges left.