Man Behind the Match: Shanklin celebrates 50 caps in style

The 2008 Six Nations campaign will stick long in the memory of Welsh fans.

The 2008 Six Nations campaign will stick long in the memory of Welsh fans.

This was Warren Gatland’s debut Championship as Wales head coach and it is surely one he will never forget.

Gatland would lead Wales to their second Grand Slam title in four years, leading Wales to one of their most famous wins against England at Twickenham.

This instalment of our Man Behind The Match series looks at a key match between Wales and Italy in Cardiff during the 2008 campaign.

And for one Welshman in particular, it was a perfect afternoon.


The build-up to the 2008 Championship was full of intrigue for Wales, with Gatland presiding over his first Championship in charge.

His first task was to defeat England at Twickenham, which for a long time had been a formidable challenge for many Welsh national sides.

Wales would battle hard to a 26-19 victory before then disposing of Scotland 30-15 a week later at Principality Stadium.

Wales and France remained the only unbeaten sides heading into the third round of fixtures and against Italy would be a massive step towards the trophy and the Grand Slam for the Welsh.

But in Gatland, Wales had a newfound belief and centre Tom Shanklin, who celebrated his 50th cap against the Azzurri, remembers the confidence of the team heading into the match.

“We lacked a little bit of structure when he came in,” explained Shanklin.

“There was no real identity of how we wanted to play and all of a sudden we had a new coach who was very authoritative and clear about the way he wanted to play.

“We took to it straight away, he gave us massive direction and turned us into a more professional outfit. He wanted to make training harder than games.

“The players had never won in England. We’d beaten England but never at Twickenham, there were a couple of key moments in that game which just flipped the confidence straight through the whole team.”


Shanklin led the team out to a roaring reception and on the pitch things started positively too,  with Stephen Jones landing two penalties in the opening ten minutes to capitalise on Italian errors.

But it would be the Azzurri who would score the first try of the game when Martin Castrogiovanni after collecting Matthew Rees’ over-thrown line-out just 10 meters from the Welsh try line.

Gonzalo Canale could have added another after the Italian’s had cut the Welsh back-line to pieces, but Canale let the ball slip out of his fingers with the try line in sight.

In the centres, Shanklin was still taking it all in.

He said: “It was a really proud day for myself and my family. Ryan Jones the captain asked if I wanted to lead the team out and I said yes that would be great thank you very much!

“Just before the game before we got on the bus and Warren Gatland gave us the last few pointers about the game.

“Then he said ‘lads its Shanks’ 50th cap’. He then went on to say ‘when I was coach at Wasps and you were at Saracens I didn’t rate you, we used to target you. But well done you made 50 caps’. And that was it

“I don’t think he meant it to come out like that but what it did for morale was incredible. Normally the bus journeys on the way to the game are quite quiet and everyone’s relaxed, but that bus journey everyone was just ripping into me calling me rubbish.”


Wales needed to get back on the front foot and soon punished their opponents for their missed opportunities.

Gavin Henson released Lee Byrne to go over in the corner with the reliable boot of Jones on-hand to convert to make it 13-5

Italian full-back Andrea Marcato kicked a penalty before half-time to reduce the deficit to just five points.

He said: “It was a huge occasion for me, I’ve never captained Wales so it was a great honour to be able to lead them out.

“You set yourself short-term goals all the time, you look to get one cap, then ten caps then twenty and the all of a sudden you start thinking about 50.

“And when you hit that 35-36 cap mark you are looking at 50 because it is a huge occasion and not everyone gets it.

“You start counting down and looking at the fixtures when you reach around 45. You start hoping that you’re going to get home games, you start looking at it and think ‘am I going to get 50 caps with someone else?’

“You don’t want that, you don’t want to share the limelight.

“Ideally you want it at home because you have the crowd behind you and luckily my 50th cap was against Italy at home.”


Within just 60 seconds of the restart, Shanklin got the opportunity he had dreamed about.

Italian fly-half Andrea Masi played a blind looping pass straight into the path of Shanklin who would race through to dot down and mark his 50th appearance in style.

Wales then upped the intensity and Jones kicked another two penalties, while two tries from Shane Williams and a second of the game for Byrne wrapped up a third straight win in the competition for Wales.

He said: “We had done so much work defensively with Shaun Edwards and he wasn’t happy at half-time. Andrea Masi, who normally plays centre, was playing fly-half at the time so had a little inexperience in that position.

“Coming in at half-time it was a fairly close game, we had a bit of a rollicking from Edwards because we had given away penalties, the line broke off and they nearly scored so it was imperative that we came out and started the second half well.

“I remember lining up defensively and you’re trying to anticipate things and you’re thinking right if Andrea Masi throws a long pass here I could potentially intercept.

“I think he might have read me because he then threw this long pass, which you just can’t do against a team that will blitz you because those passes are always going to get picked off.

“And I remember picking it off and running under the posts – luckily nobody chased me.”


France would later that evening taste defeat in Paris against England, leaving Wales as the only undefeated team going into the last two matches.

Wales would claim the Triple Crown after narrowly beating Ireland 16-12 in Dublin before outplaying France 29-12 in Cardiff to secure the Grand Slam in front of their home crowd.

Wales: L Byrne, M Jones, T Shanklin (c), G Henson, S Williams, S Jones, D Peel, G Jenkins, M Rees, R Thomas, I Gough, I Evans, J Thomas, M Williams, R Jones.

Replacements: M Phillips, H Bennet, J Hook, Du Jones, De Jones, G Delve, S Parker

Italy: A Marcato, A Sgarbi, G Canale, Mi Bergamasco, E Galon, A Masi, S Picone, S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, S Dellape, C Del Fava, J Sole, Ma Bergamasco, S Parisse (c).

Replacements: A Lo Cicero, M Bortolami, P Buso, P Travagli, A Zanni, C Festuccia

Not used: E Patrizio

Sin Bin: Mi Bergamasco (50)