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Wales Online
Wales Online
Mark Orders

Raging Wales star banged down referee's door as 'all hell broke loose' amid humiliation

Warm, sunny and relaxed is how the author Bill Bryson has described Rome. Rewind to 2007 and the warm and sunny bits of his description were there.

But relaxed? Wales’ rugby captain Gareth Thomas was anything but as his team endured an afternoon which could not have been more stressful had all concerned been challenged to cross an impossibly busy Roman road during rush hour, amid a multitude of horn-tooting, lane-jumping drivers, some of them not entirely abiding by the Italian equivalent of the Highway Code.

By tea-time, Thomas was in a state of apoplexy, Wales had suffered only their second-ever defeat to Italy and head coach Gareth Jenkins was one step closer to losing his job. Oh, and the events of the afternoon ensured referee Chris White could forget about being named that year’s Mr Popularity this side of the River Severn. Thinking about it, at one point that day, while he declined to answer his dressing room door while Thomas hammered on it from outside, White's ambitions probably extended no further than finding a way out of the said changing area in one piece. For him, a fast car parked outside the back would have been ideal. Facing a raging Thomas less so.

Read more: Shane Williams and Mike Phillips to lace up boots once more for 'special' game

All because of a mix-up over time. But what a mix-up, one which cost Wales at least a share of the spoils in a match they were to lose 23-20. Few Six Nations games have ended amid such mayhem, with Italy's cup of joy overflowing and Wales' cup — well, Wales' cup overflowed as well, albeit with anger.

Rewind 15 years, then, to the Gareth Jenkins era as Wales'national coach. It hadn’t been going well when the fixture with Italy came around. Jenkins’ team had won just two games since he took over at the helm, but there was quality in it in the shape of Shane Williams, James Hook, Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel behind, and Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones and Martyn Williams up front. They were expected to have enough about them to beat the Azzurri when the sides met in the fourth round of the Six Nations.

So much for expectations. Once again, the Wales of those days failed to deliver, allowing Italy to take a 13-7 interval lead. A try from hooker Matthew Rees was then converted and Hook fired over two penalties, but there was never any sense the visitors were in control — that wasn't the way things were done back then.

Sure enough, back came the hosts, with a Mauro Bergamasco try helping to hoist them into a three-point lead. Wales were not done, but soon would be. They forced a penalty just inside the Italian 22 and could have opted to go for goal. With a kicker of Hook’s calibre in their ranks, the likelihood is they would have secured a draw — not satisfactory, but not a humiliation, either.

But events then seem to hurry Wales over a cliff. Referee White was asked how much time was left. The official match clock showed 79 minutes and 56 seconds, but White replied there were actually 10 seconds remaining. When Wales enquired if there was time for the line-out, they were told 'yes'.

Thomas, who had taken over the armband from injured skipper Jones, has since admitted he would have gone for goal if White’s answer had been in the negative. "I wanted us to win, of course I did, but I also knew that while a draw would be heavily criticised back in Wales, a defeat would be seen as a total disaster," he wrote in his book, Alfie . "In other words, I hoped time would be against us so that I could not possibly be wrong in deciding to go for goal. But life is not that simple."

Indeed it isn’t. Hook banged the ball into touch, only for White to be seen holding a hand to an ear, listening to time-keeper Geoff Warren via an earpiece. "That’s time," Warren could be heard saying, prompting the English referee to end the game.

Let's deal in understatement and say it was not a move which pleased those in red. "All hell broke loose," said Thomas in Alfie . "I stormed over to him demanding an explanation, which was not forthcoming."

Italian players celebrated wildly — and why wouldn’t they? Newspaper reports suggested they had been on a bonus of 20,000 euros (£13,580) a man. Multiply that by 22 and it worked out at 440,000 euros or £300,000 for the matchday squad. Happy days.

But not for Wales. For further colour, we must head for Adam Jones’ account of the episode in his autobiography, Bomb : "I thought Alfie was going to blow a gasket," said the front-row legend. "He went absolutely mental. He tore strips off Chris White on the pitch, and then went hammering on his door after we’d all returned to the changing rooms. White, wisely, declined to answer. Witnessing Alfie in anger mode can be a terrifying experience."

Still far from Zen mode, Thomas attended the obligatory post-match press conference, at which he said: "There was a bit of a debate over kicking it so we asked the ref: 'If we kick to touch have we got time to play?' He said: 'There's 10 seconds, if you kick to touch quickly now — yes'. So Hooky took the ball, kicked into touch and the referee blew up. If he had said to me: 'If you kick to touch the game is over' we would obviously not have done. You don't have to be an Einstein to figure that one out."

Of course, these days the laws have changed. Now, even if the clock is in the red, the line-out can still take place. But back then, if time was up, that wasn’t an option.

Welsh fury was almost tangible. But they maybe should have asked themselves why they were scrabbling around trying to level matters with seconds left against Italy in the first place.

"Instead of acknowledging our own shortcomings, we placed the blame on the ref," said Adam Jones. "White apologised for the ‘misunderstanding’, but it didn’t change the course of history. We’d lost for a second time to Italy, and were on course for the wooden spoon unless we could muster a victory against England in the final game of the championship."

Inspired by Hook, Wales did pull a win out of the bag against England a week later, leaving Scotland with the kitchen utensil no-one in rugby wants.

But the Welsh uplift proved short-lived. Six months later, Wales crashed out of the World Cup after a pool-stage defeat to Fiji and Jenkins, a fundamentally decent man, was sacked. Not for the first time that year, he had experienced the sensation of time running out.

Desperate days. Desperate days, indeed.

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