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Gatland: Henson damaged by absence

Gavin Henson's hopes of reviving his international career this summer effectively disappeared when he was unable to go on trial in front of Warren Gatland and the Wales coaching staff.

Gatland has confirmed that Bath centre Henson's absence from the first senior Wales trial game for 14 years went against him.

The Wales boss has named a 32-man squad to tour South Africa. It will be captained by lock Alun-Wyn Jones and includes four uncapped players - backs Matthew Morgan, Jordan Williams, Steven Shingler and Gareth Davies.

Henson, who last played for Wales just before the 2011 World Cup, missed the trial because Premiership Rugby - the umbrella organisation for England's top 12 clubs - does not release non-English players for games that fall outside International Rugby Board match windows.

Friday night's trial, which saw a star-studded Probables team crush the Possibles 55-7, took place outside the window and was not a Test match, so Premiership Rugby stuck by its policy and clubs did not allow release.

Asked if his unavailability had cost 32-year-old Henson, who was originally named in the Probables squad, Wales head coach Gatland said: "Absolutely it did.

"We had not seen him play a lot, and he needed to be able to play (on Friday) if he was to be considered.

"Paul James (Henson's Bath team-mate who secured tour selection) had the luxury, when he was in Wales, of playing regularly at international level and going away. Some of those other players needed to play.

"It did not count against him because he has been in the squad for a long time and he is an experienced player with over 50 caps.

"It was not a hard one to pick Paul. He has been talking to our conditioners the last few days and doing a bit of training.

"There is also the fact he has played a lot this season, he has had a great season and been named one of the players of the season, so it has been an easy decision."

While Henson will ruefully reflect on what might have been, 22-year-old Morgan forced his way into Gatland's squad following a blistering performance after going on as a half-time substitute for the Possibles.

Morgan, who leaves the Welsh domestic scene later this summer to join Bristol, thrilled a capacity 20,000 Liberty Stadium crowd through some scintillating touches.

"He went on, the game opened up and he lit the place up," Gatland added.

"There were a few off-loads that got him in the game, and you know you have to play a bit different if he is involved and try to let him use the skills he has got.

"There are one or two other players carrying knocks, and that has given him the opportunity. For Matthew, he has to make the most of it. Go out there and make an impression.

"He has played a lot at 10, but we feel full-back gives him a bit more time and space on the ball. You have to exploit the ability he has when the game breaks up.

"You can only pick on what you see. Selection is a matter of opinion, and I have been through that in the last year or so where people have disagreed with me and I know how tough it is.

"But he came on and made a big impact. As it was, he was the most dangerous player on the field during that period, so you have got to sit up and take a bit of notice. He was one of the last names added to the squad, but he deserved it and good luck to him."

Several players, including Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Scott Williams, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric, will miss the tour because of injury, and Scarlets prop Samson Lee could now join them.

Three players exited the trial through injuries - Lee (wrist), centre Jamie Roberts (shoulder) and hooker Ken Owens (knee) - with Lee's problem comfortably the most serious.

Wales travel to South Africa next Thursday. Their opening game is against the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth on June 10, while the Springboks await in Durban (June 14) and Nelspruit (June 21).

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