Thomas sets WRU pulses racing with new book

Wales hope skipper's thoughts are tamer than Henson's
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The Independent Online

Wales's team management admit they have no power of veto over the forthcoming autobiography of the injured captain, Gareth Thomas, and can only hope it will cause fewer ructions than Gavin Henson's book. As the Welsh Rugby Union's chief executive, Steve Lewis, nears the conclusion of his "Red Zone Roadshow", presenting the governing body's version of the Mike Ruddock affair to the rank and file, the fire-fighting continues.

Henson's My Grand Slam Year exploded on to Welsh bookshelves last autumn with critical comments about team-mates and opponents, and the fallout is only now receding. Thomas's work-in-progress - provisionally titled What I'm All About, Alfie: The Gareth Thomas Story - is due out in October and could cover any number of sticky subjects, from the reign of Graham Henry to Ruddock's fraught departure. The WRU would like their legal department to give it the once-over before publication, but the team manager, Alan Phillips, says that without central contracts they are in no position to do so, even though that was the position they wanted to get into after the Henson episode.

"This is the first time the matter of Gareth's book has been raised," said Phillips, "and he's pretty much assured me it's about his life and where he's come from and not in a similar vein to Gavin's. The Union can only try to ensure sure that good advice has been given at all times and there's nothing that could damage relationships. That is especially true when a player is still playing international rugby. When he's retired it's different. Gavin's book did cause a rift in the camp. Going forward, we would like to put something in document form for the players to sign while they're still playing for Wales."

Phillips is confident that Thomas - who may seek a job with the WRU when his playing career finishes - will do what Henson (right)and his advisers failed to and warn any potentially offended parties beforehand. The captain is resting his damaged neck artery - his club, Toulouse, say it may heal in six weeks rather than the 12 originally quoted - and spending time with the Wales squad. He is keeping a diary and cannot be short of material. In a few short weeks Wales have lost a coach, Thomas himself thought at one stage he was going to die, and Henson, albeit with his own variation on poetic licence, announced he was "suicidal" over his performance as a replacement fly-half in the 31-5 loss to Ireland last Sunday.

Furthermore, none of the principals in Wales's backroom staff is certain of his position going into the last fortnight of the Six Nations. The interim head coach and players' favourite, Scott Johnson, is set to take an assistant's role with the Wallabies back home in Australia. The defence coach, Clive Griffiths, shook hands last year on a contract through to the next World Cup, but Ruddock's departure muddied the waters. Whatever the clubs and districts are told behind closed doors at Lewis's roadshows, the public are now aware that the WRU spent nine months negotiating with Ruddock over his contract before he resigned. The regional sides are restless over the treatment of their players, and the highly respected Paul Thorburn quit his commercial role with the WRU on Thursday for a job in strategic development with the Ospreys.

On the field, there are matches against Italy and France at the Millennium Stadium to play and win if Wales are to retain their championship title. Then in June there is a tour to Argentina, and the World Cup is only 18 months away. "I would love to go the World Cup under the right circumstances," said Griffiths, who would offer continuity if Johnson quits. The WRU say the selection process will begin after the Six Nations, though Phil Davies of Leeds and Cardiff Blues' Dai Young to take the forwards head the list of those already being touted. Ruddock, meanwhile, is thought to be in the frame for Saracens' director of rugby vacancy; the struggling Guinness Premiership club say they want "someone with significant coaching experience in the northern hemisphere" in place by April.

Wales name their team to meet Italy on Tuesday and remain ravaged by injuries to Thomas, Kevin Morgan, Tom Shanklin, Brent Cockbain, Chris Horsman, Ryan Jones, Gareth Cooper, Gareth Wyatt, Luke Charteris and Ceri Sweeney. On the plus side, the fly-half Stephen Jones looks like recovering from a dead leg, and Henson, the wing Shane Williams and lock Ian Evans played a full part in Ospreys' 40-14 defeat by the Blues on Friday night. Spectators at the Arms Park included Johnson, Jonah Lomu and Charlotte Church. Indeed La Church was at Henson's side post-match in Dublin when the perma-tanned one impressed Phillips with a new maturity in the face of some of the worst catcalling aimed by a crowd at a lone player the game has known.

"Team spirit has never been a problem," said Martyn Williams, the Wales flanker voted player of the 2005 Six Nations. "We weren't sure what to expect going to Ireland, but the Welsh supporters were fantastic to a man. I hope Scott Johnson doesn't go, but if a new coaching team comes in we've just got to buy into that." Williams admits the Welsh attack is nowhere near as potent as the Grand Slam version - witness a solitary line-break in Ireland compared with 14 when they thrashed Italy 38-8 in Rome last season - but feels that his side cannot afford to engage the Azzurri in a set-piece dogfight. "We haven't got a juggernaut pack and we need to stick to our style. It's a fine line, and if we're a little bit out it does cause chaos with us. It is nice to be at home again, and if we can finish with two wins it wouldn't be a bad return on a messy Six Nations."

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