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The voice of Welsh Sport: Gavin's in for a warm welcome.

Byline: ken GORMAN

ALL things considered, I'd rather be tucked up with Charlotte Church and a bottle of vodka this chilly evening than stepping into the silver boots of her boyfriend.

It was the great WC Fields who had inscribed on his tombstone: "I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Gavin Henson might well be pondering that immortal line as he prepares for his long-awaited comeback - bad back permitting - in Bristol.

But whether it's in the mists of the West Country tonight or up in the furnace at Leicester next weekend that the shaven-legged one makes his return, he can be sure of a warm welcome.

Rugby men don't possess a sympathetic ear for smart alecks, and that is what our Gav is now perceived to be after his controversial autobiography.

Young, gifted and waxed he may be, but you can rest assured there are more than a few man-mountain forwards out there who think a cauliflower ear would suit him - and more than willing to offer him one.

It's the price you pay for having a gorgeous and famous girlfriend, for becoming an idol of the teenie fans - and for being seen to be a bit lippy. But are we really being fair to a lad who was offered a lot of money - up to pounds 100,000 with royalties - to tell his story? And who then decided that rather than fill the book with 200 pages of waffle, he would actually tell it as he saw it?

You get a vivid picture of a young player with burning ambition in one cameo in his book. Alistair Campbell, the Lions' notorious press officer, asks him to ratify a statement, specially prepared by the first doctor of spin, that our boy was "disappointed" to be left out of the first Test against the All Blacks.

"I'm not disappointed - I'm devastated," he told him.

Now I'd rather read that than a whole chapter on what a good bloke Campbell was.

There is no question that the truth can sometimes hurt, as it probably has to the egos of one or two big names in Henson's book. Much safer to water it down, to present a world where the sun always shines and there's never a cross word. That's how sporting autobiographies used to be, back in the sepia days.

But the world now wants it warts and all. Harsh it may be. But you have to credit Gavin for his honesty.

Maybe what rankles most of all is the sheer hypocrisy of the Welsh Rugby Union, who hauled Henson before them to castigate him. That's right, the same WRU who use his picture on every billboard they produce to publicise the game.

And you know what? Gavin, Shane Williams and the rest of the guys whose faces invariably adorn those posters don't get a single penny extra for it.

Now that sounds like a decent opening chapter for your next book, Gav!

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PETER RIDSDALE tells us the dream of Cardiff City's new stadium is now only weeks away from reality. Can I dig the first sod, Peter? I'll know it's true then.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 4, 2005
Words:519
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