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A happy Henson as Jonny and Gav show hits the road.


GAVIN Henson last night stressed how he hopes his new partnership with Jonny Wilkinson can fire him into Wales' World Cup squad after a "dream debut" for Toulon.

The Wales star revelled alongside his one-time Lions teammate in a 38-10 French Championship win against Stade Francais on Saturday, scoring one try and creating another.

Now the former Osprey faces three games - though potentially more if Toulon reach the French Top 14 play-offs - that could be among the most important in his career as he aims to secure a long-term future with the cash-rich Heineken Cup quarter-finalists - as well as a seat on the plane to New Zealand with Warren Gatland's Wales this autumn. And Henson (inset), who is already being lined up to play for Wales against the Barbarians on June 4, believes playing alongside England's World Cup hero of 2003 could give him the edge he needs to give Gatland a major nudge.

Henson said: "To do that on my debut and in front of that crowd was a dream come true. It couldn't have gone better.

"I'd like to think that if I keep playing like that then Wales will at least try me out in one of the World Cup warm-up games.

"Playing for Wales is still the most important thing for me and I think I still have a chance at making the World Cup.

"Hopefully Warren will see what I'm doing out here and be impressed enough to give me a go. But first I'm desperate to start for Toulon and in this amazing team. I was really looking forward to playing with Jonny; it was one of the reasons I came here.

"It really helped to play outside him on my debut because he controls the game so well. I thought I also had an influence, but we worked well together and we can only get better."

Few people upstage Wilkinson, but then few have the swagger and mercurial skills of Henson, who basked in the French sun to announce his return to rugby in some style.

Wilkinson may be the hero, kicking another 18 points, but it was chants of 'Allez Henson' that rang out inside the Stade Felix Mayol cauldron as the Welshman wasted no time in winning over the Toulon faithful.

He went close to scoring inside two minutes and then served up a try with a searing break from deep before touching down for the final points of a remarkable appearance. Little wonder, then, that the former reality TV star is ready to settle among the rugby celebrities at this glittering club.

He added: "This has always been my favourite part of the world, so to work here is amazing. I could see myself finishing my career here.

"It all depends on the next three games. I'm sure they are going to be a lot faster and a much bigger test for me. "But I feel so fresh, both mentally and physically and really feel like I've fitted in with the boys. Stuff has been said in the past, but I love being part of a rugby team, it's my environment. It was a nightmare coming here with the calf injury, but that gave me time to learn all the calls and get to know the guys. I hope this is a new start for me."

Henson got his first taste of the frenzied support before kick-off when, as is tradition, the team walked a 100-metre gauntlet, single-file through the frenzied Toulon hordes from the team bus to the changing rooms.

He said: "It was unbelievable and reminded me of playing an international back in Wales. We were being shoved around and jostled. It was good-natured, but really got your mind in the right place. You realise how important the team is to the fans. If that is what it's like every week, I can't wait to play again."

Henson will miss this weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Perpignan, having already appeared for Saracens in this season's tournament.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 4, 2011
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