Talk of Thomas retirement is new Welsh blow

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The Independent Online

The Welsh Rugby Union's dearest wish on Tuesday night was to consign the goings-on of the past 10 days or so to history and focus on the immediate future - Sunday's Six Nations match against Ireland in Dublin.

But yesterday the talk in the Welsh capital's cafés and bars was centred on two topics: whether the former coach Mike Ruddock will resort to legal action - the word on the street is that constructive dismissal is a distinct possibility after the Welsh Rugby Union appeared to have rejected the coach's side of things; and, more pertinently, whether Wales' injured captain, Gareth Thomas, will retire from the game.

The arterial damage in his neck has given the full-back a new perspective on life. He is out for three months, effectively the rest of the season, and yesterday he was reported as saying: "I will only play if I am 100 per cent. I haven't got the fight in me at the moment. I'm struggling to get out of bed every morning. At the moment I couldn't even think about putting my kit on, let alone playing."

The feeling among supporters is that the Toulouse player, who has made 88 appearances for his country, may well be tempted to retire, not that he would go public with such a pronouncement at so sensitive a time. But if he takes that decision at some point in the not-too-distant future then he will be sorely missed by his Wales team-mates, and especially by the caretaker coach Scott Johnson.

The 31-year-old Thomas has brought a wealth of experience to the attack, not to mention a cutting edge and a record-breaking 36 tries. His contribution to the Wales cause certainly cannot be understated.

It is no wonder that Johnson is loath to do without the former postman's input in some shape or form. And while he was unsure whether Thomas would stay, he clearly does not want to be without his talismanic presence. Originally, he was planning to take Thomas over to Dublin with him, but the medics have ruled that out.

But when Thomas, who is equally keen to stay involved, rang Johnson on Tuesday night offering to do some analysis from home the Australian jumped at the chance. Johnson said: "The intention is that Gareth will be doing some analysis for us, because he wants to be part of it. We need to have Gareth involved and around and he probably needs the team."

Yet Johnson is prepared for the loss to be permanent. "Alfie is getting to the age and the stage when thoughts of other things cross your mind. He's no different from any player who hits the magic 30-mark and starts to look for other things."

The Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, expects the Welsh coaching controversy to fire up his opponents for the game at Lansdowne Road. "There's always a reaction from any team that has gone through a trauma such as a change of coach or a run of losses," he said. "It usually galvanises the team and pulls them together. They'll be more fired up than usual."

O'Sullivan has made three changes following the 43-31 defeat by France with Donncha O'Callaghan, Marcus Horan and Andrew Trimble included in the starting line-up. With Paul O'Connell ruled out with the shoulder injury he sustained against France, O'Callaghan is promoted from the bench.

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