Thomas calls time on extraordinary career

Britain's highest-profile gay sportsman will also be remembered as a great player under both codes
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gareth Thomas has retired from all forms of rugby, just four days before he was due to begin the Four Nations campaign with Wales.

It is the final twist in a unique sporting career. Thomas captained Wales at rugby union and won a record total of caps, before making a successful switch to league two years ago at the age of 35. He was the highest-profile sportsman in Britain to be openly gay.

Thomas had returned early from his media commitments at the Rugby Union World Cup, in order to prepare for the Four Nations. He was expected to play in the warm-up against Ireland last Saturday, but withdrew for what were described as "personal reasons".

In a statement, he said: "I have listened to and discussed this decision with many of my family and my close friends. My mind had told me the time to retire is now. If you can't give 100 per cent to rugby then you can't do it justice. This is a sad day, but I know my time has come to an end as a player."

The Welsh coach, Iestyn Harris, praised Thomas for what he called an "unselfish" decision. "It would have been easy for him to play the Wales internationals for his personal gain, but he didn't want to take an opportunity from someone else in our squad.

"I've worked with him for just short of two years and the work and desire he put into his transition from union to league was a testament to his supreme professionalism."

The Bridgend-born Thomas was a genuine Welsh rugby union legend, becoming the first man to win a hundred caps for his country, during a career spent largely with Cardiff.

Late in the day, that career took two remarkable turns. In December 2009, he became the first rugby player of either code to come out as gay while still playing.

The following year, he made an equally dramatic move by signing to play rugby league for the Wrexham-based Super League club Crusaders. He did not have an easy baptism, getting thoroughly battered in his debut against the Catalan Dragons.

He worked hard and adapted, however, although there was a sour note when he was subjected to homophobic abuse at Castleford. He played four times for Wales in his new code, including captaining them in the match in France that clinched a place in this autumn's Four Nations.

This season, a difficult one for Crusaders, he generally performed well and with obvious enthusiasm until breaking his arm in July.

Even when Crusaders dropped out of Super League, Thomas was keen to carry on playing a game he said he wished he had discovered earlier. His career was set for another unexpected change of direction, with a shock move to Wigan. Thanks to yesterday's announcement, that unlikely-sounding civil partnership will not now take place.

Peacock expects Welsh to ruffle a few feathers

England captain Jamie Peacock insists his side will not be underestimating Wales in their opening Four Nations game at Leigh on Saturday.

Half of the 24-strong Welsh squad, who upset France in the 2010 European Cup to earn their promotion to the top tier of international rugby league, are part-timers and six of them have paid their way from Australia to represent their country on the big stage. But Peacock says England are bracing themselves for a passionate performance from Iestyn Harris's side, who warmed up for their debut with a 30-6 win over Ireland in Neath last Saturday.

"I'm sure Iestyn will have them playing well," Peacock said at the tournament launch at Elland Road, venue for the 19 November final. "They've got some crafty players with the likes of Lee Briers and they will be pretty fired up. They will present a different challenge to that of the Aussies and Kiwis, but a difficult one nevertheless."