Six Nations 2017: When Wales gambled and lost against Italy in Rome

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Remembering Wales' 'whistlegate' defeat

When the Five Nations grew into six at the turn of the century, rugby fans rejoiced. What could be better than a weekend in Rome and the prospect of some old relics inspecting some even older ones at the Forum and the Coliseum?

The trip would be worth it for the anthem alone.

Fratelli D'Italia - honoured by scholars and scoundrels alike. The fans wouldn't have to worry about the trains being late because hadn't the biggest Italian scoundrel of them all, the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, made them run like clockwork? So they say.

How ironic, then, that Wales should discover to their cost that timekeeping in Rome can be notoriously unreliable.

Their return to the Eternal City for the start of this year's championship will evoke some nightmarish memories of what happened 10 years ago.

Taking a gamble

James Hook
James Hook looks on in the final stages of Wales' defeat by Italy

Wales were losing 23-20 when they won a penalty from an eminently kickable position with time all but up. Rather than go for goal and take a draw which would still have felt more like a defeat, they gambled and went for the corner.

But before calling the next shot, James Hook, who had switched to outside half in place of a battered Stephen Jones, needed to know whether they had time for the line-out.

He asked the referee, Chris White of Cheltenham. At that time he was just about the best in the game and an official admired the world over for his calm authority in the eye of a storm.

He did not appear to have a clue that one of 'Force Nine' strength was about to howl around him.

"There are ten seconds left," White said. "If you kick it into touch quickly, yes." Meaning 'yes, you will have time for the line-out'.

Hook duly drilled the ball into touch.

Out of time

Chris White
Referee Chris White officiates Italy v Wales in the 2007 Six Nations

The set-piece would give Wales the platform for one last shot at redemption except that the line-out never took place.

White blew for time after what can only be described as an embarrassing episode in timekeeping.

The television match official over-ruled White, who took his word for it, and blew for time. All manner of consternation broke out in the Welsh ranks.

The TMO, it seemed, claimed there were five seconds to go when White told Gareth Thomas that there were ten.

Isn't the referee the sole arbiter of time?

So much for the technology.

Moving on from that day in 2007

Italy v Wales
Italy celebrate their 23-20 win against Wales at the Flaminio Stadium in 2007

White had been put in an impossible position and of course there was no guarantee that Wales would have got out of their Roman jail but that wasn't the end of it.

Being an honourable man, White felt obliged to issue a statement, apologizing to the Wales players and coaches for what he called a misunderstanding and thanking them for their good grace in accepting that apology.

Good grace? Good heavens.

And the upshot of that misunderstanding is still to be found in the record book - Italy 23-20 Wales.

As the sole Welsh survivor from that occasion ten years ago, newly-appointed skipper Alun Wyn Jones, could do worse than remember it, if only to remind himself to be wary that time in Rome ticks by faster on some clocks than others.

Wales have won their four visits since, each by a longer margin than the previous one - five points, eight, 17 and, glory be, 41 when they almost picked the title out of Ireland's pockets in that unforgettable finale in 2015.

This time? Who knows? Because I don't.

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