Thomas left to lick several wounds

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The Independent Online

Jones's concern was understandable. Thomas spent the week cornering the Six Nations champions' treatment table - no easy task where this Wales squad have been concerned.

A knee-ligament tear and a hefty whack on the jaw playing for Toulouse last weekend were the principal concerns, and when you add the customary protective strapping on Thomas's right forearm, he was a thoroughly suitable totem for a patched-up team.

Wales were missing seven front-line crocks after Gareth Delve twanged a hamstring at the 11th hour, plus the two miscreants Gavin Henson and Dafydd Jones, serving bans. They had one hand not tied behind their backs but set in plaster and bound up in a sling. Still, Thomas set to his task the only way he knows how: with a swagger and his uniquely insou-ciant take on "give it a lash, boyos".

Wales did not charge on to the field. They did not even march. They strolled, they ambled, an amble Thomas might have perfected delivering the mail in his past working life on the rounds of Bridgend.

He and his mates in pillar-box red had even indulged in a bit of guerrilla graffiti in the dressing rooms, erecting a placard outside theirs which read "Cymru am Byth" - "Wales forever".

Straightaway it was GT, as in Wales's "go-to" man (funnily enough, England lost theirs, Josh Lewsey, to injury early in the piece). Either at full-back or - for a few minutes while Matthew Watkins got a cut head seen to - as second receiver in the midfield, Thomas was involved in everything. Some pundits would have liked him to have started at centre in the absence of two of last year's Grand Slammers, Henson and Tom Shanklin.

Whatever the case, Thomas was given the captaincy by Mike Ruddock last season because to attack from the back is fundamental to the Welsh game- plan. Had England's kickers spiralled the ball over the half-built South Stand, down the M4 and over the Severn bridge to Magor Services, Wales would have run it from there. Thomas is not so much a hand on the tiller as gripping a souped-up outboard motor and letting rip for the high seas.

Here it was mostly swimming against the tide. Thomas brilliantly fielded a chip from Ben Cohen in front of his nose; he covered Shane Williams to ward Mark Cueto away from the corner when yet another England try looked on; he remonstrated with the referee when Martyn Williams was yellow-carded. He also missed a tackle on Jamie Noon before Cueto's try.

Towards the bitter end Thomas must have felt more like Captain Cat, as in Under Milk Wood, bemoaning his sinking ship and all the lost hands. "You're dancing, Williams" - but Martyn's jinking finish to Dwayne Peel's wonder-break was only a brief bob above the waterline. "We'll carry on as we always do," Thomas said. "This team is not bothered what others say about us and we can get back into the tournament." And his head was held high, even as he led Wales away into the black, bandaged night.

THE WORD GAME

"The autumn set a benchmark for our performances and that was a level up." Andy Robinson, England's coach

"We have great leadership. Martin Corry led the team tremendously well. Charlie Hodgson leading the attack and Lewis Moody leading the defence have been superb. This is a whole team effort." Robinson again

"We are learning more. We are not the finished article but we have to keep moving forward. It's a step forward from our performances in the autumn." Martin Corry, England's captain

"It pains me to say it, but he was brilliant." Corry on Matt Stevens, the official man of the match

"England played some really good rugby. The crucial moment for us was when Martyn Williams was sin-binned." Mike Ruddock, Wales's coach

"We were in the game at 18-13 but we were hurt with 14 men against a very strong England team. They really went for the jugular." Ruddock faces up to defeat

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