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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Thomas turns gamekeeper
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

Gareth Thomas
Thomas performs his 'Ayatollah' try celebration
The statistics of Wales' new captain Gareth Thomas' career scream of the value he has given to the national side over the past decade.

In winning 77 caps as centre, wing and full-back he has notched up 34 tries, breaking Ieuan Evans' Wales record.

Despite the achievements, the man known to all as "Alfie" has often been seen as a talented maverick rather than a player at the heart of the cause.

Last year that all changed, as the man from Ogwr emerged as one of then-coach Steve Hansen's senior Wales players.

"I looked at a lot of the things I was doing over the last year or two and realised it was time for me to go up a level," Thomas told BBC Sport.

"I was very much an under-achiever and it came to a point where I just thought I have to achieve.

"There were a lot of people getting behind me and pushing me in the right direction. It's that support that has helped me come such a long way."

GARETH THOMAS
Born: 25.7.74, Ogwr, Wales
Position: Centre, wing, full-back
Club: Toulouse
Wales debut: v Japan 27.05.95
Appearances: 77
Points: 170
Thomas was an ever-present in the 2003 Six Nations campaign, his performances providing rare encouragement in a dismal tournament for the men in red.

A vice-captain's role at the World Cup was the reward, and Thomas proved one of the stand-out players in Australia, his strike running perhaps the major catalyst for Wales' outstanding displays against New Zealand and England.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Thomas says he found it difficult to adapt to his new-found leading role.

"Dai Young, Scott Gibbs, Rob Howley, Scott Quinnell and Neil Jenkins all went, all of a sudden you looked round and there weren't that many senior players," said Thomas.

To be mentioned in the same breath as Ieuan Evans is such an honour
Gareth Thomas
"I asked myself whether I was going to take on that role or continue being one of the boys, just having a laugh.

"I hope I've managed to do both in some ways. I still enjoy a joke, but I'm always there if anyone needs a word or some advice.

"I never think I'm better than other players, but I have a lot of experience now and know how to handle certain situations."

Surprisingly for such a senior player, the major debate surrounding Thomas in the 2004 Six Nations concerned which position Steve Hansen would choose to select him, his versatility and ability across the back line keeping all the options open.

THOMAS' TOP-TAPPING TRIO
Colin Charvis and Gareth Thomas
Thomas' head-slapping try celebration routine comes from a Cardiff City fan favourite known as the 'Ayatollah'
As an initiation at Toulouse, Thomas had his head shaved like a monk to mimic their forwards coach Serge Lairle
Alfie's major plan when he retires is to 'get on his Harley and ride'
He remained at full-back, breaking Evans' record in a memorable moment in the 44-10 win over Italy in front of an adoring Cardiff crowd.

"Ieuan is a legend to me and to all Welsh rugby," said Thomas.

"I'm lucky enough to have played with him and I learnt a lot, he's one of the best wings we've ever had.

"To be mentioned alongside him means I've achieved more in my career than I ever thought possible."

New Wales coach Mike Ruddock was glad to inherit a senior player at the top of his game.

Thomas starred at full-back against the Barbarians in Ruddock's first game in charge, but towards the end of the match he went down with an ankle ligament injury.

That ruled him out of the summer tour, but with Colin Charvis getting embroiled in another media row on that trip Ruddock saw 'Alfie' as the man to lead his Wales team towards the next World Cup.

"I always enjoy the game, try to play with a smile and hope my team mates take the same attitude," said Thomas.

"Professionalism means there is a lot more work and things are much tougher, but the ethos of the game remains the same.

"If the fun goes, that's the time to think about whether the game is for you any more."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: New Wales skipper Gareth Thomas



SEE ALSO
Thomas made Wales captain
29 Sep 04  |  Internationals
Thomas gets Toulouse move
23 Jul 04  |  Welsh
Thomas humbled by record
28 Mar 04  |  Internationals


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