Neck injury puts Thomas out for season

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The Independent Online

The Wales captain Gareth Thomas was last night ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations Championship, and effectively for the rest of the season, after it was discovered he had damaged a blood vessel in his neck.

The news of Thomas's injury overshadowed the off-the-field shenanigans involving the resignation of Mike Ruddock, who appeared before the 17-man board of the Welsh Rugby Union to put his side of the affair that stunned the nation on Valentine's Day.

Ruddock, who turned up 25 minutes early for the 4.30pm meeting, emerged at 6.30pm to read out a prepared statement that revealed precisely nothing, before he left with his solicitor, Tim Jones.

The only stand-out line was where Ruddock said: "My issues are unimportant and insignificant compared to the challenge they [Wales] face on the pitch." They were still important enough to warrant calling together the great and the good of the WRU last night.

Ruddock had originally agreed with WRU chief executive, Steve Lewis, that he would step down at the end of the Six Nations Championship, but minutes before the press conference to announce this the former Swansea flanker was told his resignation would be with immediate effect.

Shortly before Ruddock's appearance the news of the Wales captain broke. Thomas, who had been taken to hospital on Sunday night suffering from what was initially described as a severe migraine, underwent an MRI scan yesterday afternoon, which revealed the nature and extent of his injury.

The Wales team doctor Professor John Williams said: "Gareth Thomas has sustained damage to an artery in his neck. This caused the symptoms that he experienced on Sunday night and resulted in his admission to hospital.

"Those symptoms have since resolved. He has undergone detailed investigations and has been reviewed by a consultant neurologist at the University Hospital of Wales today.

"The damaged blood vessel now needs to be given time to heal before Gareth can resume training and eventually playing. We are expecting him to make a full recovery and it envisaged that he will be able to resume training after 10 to 12 weeks."

Scott Johnson, the Wales caretaker coach, who named his first team yesterday evening had omitted Thomas from the match-day 22, but had hoped the inspirational captain could still travel to Dublin with the party.

"We need to do what is in the best interests of Gareth Thomas in this situation, listen to the doctors' advice and leave him at home to rest," said Johnson.

Johnson, who was skills coach under Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and finally Ruddock, had a surprise or two with the team to face Ireland in Dublin next Sunday. Gavin Henson, who has played one match since completing his 51-day ban for elbowing the Leicester prop Alex Moreno in December, features in a Wales 22 for the first time since playing a major part in securing victory over Ireland, and the Grand Slam, last March.

In that final match of last season's tournament Henson, who landed a drop goal and a long-range penalty, started the game; this time around he finds himself on the bench covering fly-half and inside centre.

Llanelli Scarlets' exciting and very quick full-back Lee Byrne comes in for Thomas and the No 8 Michael Owen takes over the captaincy, with outside-half Stephen Jones adopting the vice-captain's role. Shane Williams is also ruled out with a dead leg and his place on the left wing is taken by Scarlets' in-form Dafydd James.

"Gavin is covering fly-half and inside centre, which is especially important to us in the absence of Alfie [Thomas] and Ceri Sweeney," explained Johnson.

Ireland will be without lock Paul O'Connell, who has not recovered from a shoulder injury and there is a doubt about hooker Jerry Flannery (ankle strain).

This weekend's Six Nations teams

WALES v Ireland (Lansdowne Road, Sunday, 3.0):

L Byrne; M Jones (both Scarlets), H Luscombe (Dragons), M Watkins, D James (both Scarlets); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Scarlets); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Blues), M Owen (capt, Dragons).

Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester), G Jenkins (Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), G Delve (Bath), M Phillips (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), B Davies (Scarlets).

ENGLAND v Scotland (Murrayfield, Saturday, 5.30):

J Lewsey (Wasps); M Cueto (Sale), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale), H Ellis (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (North-ampton), J White (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), D Grewcock (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), M Corry (capt, Leicester).

Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), P Freshwater (Perpignan), S Shaw, L Dallaglio, M Dawson, T Voyce (all Wasps), A Goode (Leicester).

SCOTLAND v England (Murrayfield, Saturday, 5.30):

H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), M Di Rollo (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Leeds), D Hall (Edinburgh), B Douglas, S MacLeod (both Borders), A Kellock (Edinburgh), J White (Sale,capt), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Edinburgh).

Replacements: R Ford (Borders), C Smith (Edinburgh), N Hines (Perpignan), J Petrie (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders), G Ross (Leeds), S Webster (Edinburgh).