Is Gavin Henson the “Ryan Leaf” of the Rugby Universe?

So I’m sure you’re asking why Gavin Henson is able to get under my skin (Buddha knows I ask from time to time). By all accounts, he appears to be quite the talented player, but for a while there has been something overly annoying about not just Henson the athlete, but Henson the man.  The entitled attitude, the subtle, and not so subtle arrogance. It finally came to me this evening – Gavin Henson reminds me of Ryan Leaf, the former quarterback for the San Diego Chargers NFL team, and considered by many to be among, if not at the pinnacle, of the worst draft picks of all time.

This comparison became clearer to me after reading this story on ESPN Scrum, where Henson compares qualifying for the semi-finals of his TV dancing competition as being more exciting and meaningful to him than the two Six Nations’s championships he has won in his rugby career, in addition to slagging off his former team Ospreys, also based in Wales.  He has since moved on to an Aviva Premiership team, Saracens, based in England.  Thankfully for Henson, he won’t face his former teammates during the season, since Ospreys is part of the Magners League, a Celtic based tournament.

And let’s not forget the stress between his Wales teammates and Henson after he published his first book in 2005. Henson said stupid things, feelings were upset and Henson had to backtrack his statements with his team mates. 

It was easy to see the stressed relations with old teammates reappear in 2010 when Wales unveiled their new jersey design – complete with Henson, a player who had been out of Welsh International Rugby for over a year at that point, modeling the new design.  It was easy to imagine the long knives starting to unsheath for Henson. 

Comparing Apples to Apples?

But is it a fair comparison to hold between Gavin Henson, a hot commodity player with years ahead of himself and a record behind him, and Ryan Leaf, a player tagged with the dreaded “potential he never attempted to reach” tag?

During his collegiate football career, it was believed that Leaf was a “franchise player,” the kind of quarterback you could build a team around for many years.  During the NFL draft he was considered “on par” with Peyton Manning,

Henson has the raw ability to be a top flight rugby player, but his petulant and dismissive attitude towards the game, his belief that he alone is the Welsh team (the other 14 players on the field being window dressing) plus his self-imposed 18-month layoff from rugby to learn to be a television dancer, as well as implode his relationship with Charlotte Church, have stolen the luster from one of Wales’ best rugby players of the decade. Currently he’s not even able to qualify for the starting 15 of the Saracens, but has decreed that he’s ready and should be a top selection for the Wales National Side.

Henson has been given chance after chance, time and again, to get away with actions that might have seen players with less luck lose any opportunity for an international career.  After serving a seven-week ban for elbowing, Henson was immediately seen back on the pitch for Wales against Ireland.

At the end of the day, since Henson has had some success in the Rugby Universe, although not as much as his attitude would warrant, he’s not as much Ryan Leaf as he is Eli Manning, Peyton’s younger, less talented but just as egotistical, brother.

But enough of this emo rugby blogging, we’ve got the rest of the Sevens Series ahead of us, plus rumor of a new Olympic Rugby project by Waisale Serevi, the Fijian wonder-rugger who is widely considered the best Sevens/Olympic rugby player to ever play the game and has recently moved to Seattle to coach Old Puget Sound Beach!

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