Tom Shanklin

Tom Shanklin playing for Wales against Australia in 2010. Pic: Getty Images.

Tom Shanklin Says Things Are Different To The Roman Ruin of 2003 . . . Wales Are Not As Good

By Gareth James

Tom Shanklin has got the Six Nations set with Wales – two Grand Slam titles, two Triple Crowns and the one that few people mention, a single Wooden Spoon.

That last unwanted award was earned 20 years ago, the last time Wales were whitewashed in the 23-year history of the expanded tournament and, in fact, the only time.

The 2003 campaign included a loss for Shanklin and Wales against Italy in Rome, where two decades on, Warren Gatland’s team will try and avoid a similar fate on Saturday.

Wales will head to the Stadio Olimpico this week for the fourth round as the underdogs for a battle between two teams that have yet to register a victory.

While some people would love to get rid of the tag of being in the last Welsh team to pick up the Wooden Spoon, Shanklin would love to hold onto that particular crown.

The last thing he wants to see is Italy complete back-to-back victories over Wales and give the nation’s doubting Thomases even more to moan about.

“We weren’t overly confident back then. We were a team trying to find a style and expectations weren’t that high,” said Shanklin.

“Steve Hansen was trying to find his feet as an international coach after Graham Henry’s departure. Then, like now, he needed to find a balance between the old and the new.

“Rob Howley had retired, and Dwayne Peel came in, and Dai Young and Scott Quinnell had packed up.

Gethin Jenkins, Michael Owen and Rhys Williams were just emerging from the Wales team that had reached the U19 Junior World Championship, and I’d only won a handful of caps.

“Iestyn Harris was still working out which was going to be his best position after his transfer from rugby league and it was all about preparing the next generation of international players.

“There are so many parallels between then and now. There could be more pain to come, but if you look at both 2003 and 2007, coincidentally World Cup years like 2023, they paved the way for good times to

The Rise of Italian Rugby: Nurturing Young Talent and Reaping the Rewards


The first Grand Slam of the Six Nations era arrived in 2005 and a second came in 2008. The good times were rolling on the back of blooding younger players.

Now Shanklin believes the Italians are finally reaping the reward of a generation of properly watering and nurturing the roots of their game.

Kieran Crowley spent five seasons coaching at Benetton Rugby before taking over as the national coach and now has an exciting group of young professionals who have already run reigning champions France and world ranked No 1 side Ireland incredibly close in their two home games to date.

Shanklin’s view is there was plenty of Welsh talent waiting to emerge after that 2003 defeat in Rome. He isn’t convinced it is a similar situation two decades later.

“There was some real quality coming through the system in 2003-2004 and things did eventually click in 2005. Those hard times were about preparing the next generation,” he added.

“I don’t see the same quality emerging now. Sometimes you get lucky with a group of players coming through together, but we are struggling at the moment.

“For me it has to start with good coaching at 16-17 years of age. We need to be asking, ‘why aren’t we producing the volume and quality of players we need to feed the Welsh team’?

“Where is out next No 10? Who will play at No 8 after Taulupe Faletau retires and who will fill the No 15 shirt after Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams finish?

“And what is going to be the right combination at centre? We’ve had about 19 different pairings in recent years.

“We also need to find a big, ball-carrying No 6. Player development is the key and that is an issue for the WRU and the clubs.

“In Dublin, Leinster are able to field a 2nd, 3rd and even 4th XV of players who are competent in the basic skills of the game – passing, catching, tackling. They all have vision and are properly prepared to play up to the level required of them – it’s a question of coaching and we have to do something in that area.

“For us, it is the tactics we are going into the games with that are part of the problem, I feel. We have to evolve.”

The Sweet and Sour Memories of Shanklin: Scoring Tries in Defeat against Italy in 2003 and 2007

The one good memory Shanklin has of the 30-22 defeat in Rome in 2003 is scoring a try and making another for Nathan Budgett.

He was also at the heart of the action in the 23-20 defeat in 2007, which is best remembered for the controversy at the end when English referee Chris White blew his whistle for the end of the game having told them they had time for one final line-out.

So how was it after losing to Italy?

“They had an established group of players in 2003 who were right up there with the best in Europe. I remember having a nightmare trying to deal with Cristina Stoica in the midfield,” he added.

“The old Stadio Flaminio was like an amphitheater and was an intimidating place in which to play. It was hugely disappointing to lose, but Steve Hansen came up to me at the end and told me I had done well.

“He always had good man-management skills, as he later showed in winning the World Cup with New Zealand, and he stopped me from worrying too much about my performance.

“I didn’t particularly think it was an embarrassment, I was just hoping to get picked for the next game. I didn’t worry about walking outside the house and getting recognised as one of the players who played in the first Welsh team to lose to Italy.”

And that is the message from the 67 times capped former British & Irish Lions centre to the Welsh players heading to the eternal city this weekend.

Don’t go into the game fearing the outcome, embrace the challenge and move on from the last three matches. There is more to gain than to lose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *