Clash of the Kids; Will Sunday's Headlines Read 'Smile, It's Tait and Guile' or Will It Be 'Henson Makes Muppets out of England'? Ian Chadband Takes a Look at the Men in the Middle

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

Clash of the Kids; Will Sunday's Headlines Read 'Smile, It's Tait and Guile' or Will It Be 'Henson Makes Muppets out of England'? Ian Chadband Takes a Look at the Men in the Middle


Byline: IAN CHADBAND

TWO GOLDEN boys. Two birthday boys.

Two young centres of attention. Too much pressure? After a week in which the paeans of praise for Mathew Tait and Gavin Henson have been so effusive that you wonder how a lad's head wouldn't be turned, it is now time to see which, if either, can live up to the notices.

It is entirely unfair, of course, that the individual contributions in midfield of two Six Nations virgins - England's Tait (below) will be 19 on Sunday and Welshman Henson (right) was 23 last Tuesday - should be hyped to the heavens as being key to tomorrow's classic Millennium Stadium opener.

So just blame the legends. For as past and present luminaries have lined up to drool over the pair's stardust, the weight of words resting on inexperienced shoulders has steadily increased.

When Jonny Wilkinson, England's rugby deity, last week talked about being "privileged" to watch Tait and added "he is truly quite something and can leave us staring in disbelief", he may not have been doing his callow Newcastle colleague any favours.

As for Henson, it has become an obsession in Wales to find the new Barry John and, intermittently, the mad clamour of discovery erupts. So when John himself raves about the Ospreys' "special gift" and declares that "in a tight game, I would rather Gavin was on my side than Jonny Wilkinson", then it's official. All that's needed for tomorrow's coronation for "King Gav" is the orchestration of a first win over England in Cardiff for a dozen barren years.

From what we've seen of the pair, they are equipped to cope even if, on the surface, they seem so different. In the white corner, Tait, the boy next door, as sensible as Wilko and as electric as Guscott.

In the red, Henson, the irrepressible dandy of all the talents who says he wants to play like Campo.

While Tait was being minded by coach Andy Robinson at his first news conference on Tuesday and did peer just a mite nervously at the circus enveloping him, you were reminded that he only played his first senior match eight months ago.

To his credit, he gave mature, if fairly bland,

answers to his interrogation. Team-mates were more revealing about him, though. "Nothing seems to faze him," marvelled his Newcastle team-mate and centre partner Jamie Noon, laughing about how Tait is so laid-back his form of pre-match relaxation is to sleep in the bathroom accompanied by the sound of a running shower.

In Wales, they'll have once told you, Henson probably went to sleep dreaming of his own reflection. He was supposed to be a bit too full of himself after being named as the best junior in world rugby at the same age Tait is now and probably paid for that by earning the mistrust of the last Wales coach, Steve Hansen.

Today, the silver boots, Sid Vicious hairdos and perma-tan make you think his cockiness is still intact. …

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