• Read all about him / Groundbreaking gay Irish hurler Donal Og Cusack / Click here

Now that Cork hurler Donal Og Cusack has come out as gay, Gareth Thomas, one of the world’s most famous rugby players, has followed suit. Thomas captained the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005. Thoughout his life he has kept his sexuality a secret and was married until 2006, when the relationship ended in divorce.

“I loved Jemma to bits, she was my wife, I would have died for her, but keeping this secret was driving me crazy,” he told the Daily Mail in an interview today. “'It felt as if I had a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.”

The Welshman revealed that he had cheated on his wife with men, and that he had his first sexual encounter with a man when he was 18, with a friend (who did not play rugby). Afterwards he felt ashamed.

“I promised myself it would never happen again,” he said. “I just completely denied everything. Everything I wasn't supposed to think or feel went through a trap door in my mind and was forgotten.”

The sporting legend said that he felt trapped by rugby’s macho culture, and thought he had an image to protect. “I was like a ticking bomb. I thought I could suppress it, keep it locked away in some dark corner of myself, but I couldn't.” He had sometimes considered killing himself.

When his marriage to Jemma floundered, he broke down in tears in the changing room, the Mail reports. His coach approached him and guessed what was wrong. He told some of his team-mates and they reacted positively.

“I felt everyone was protecting me and closing in tight around me. No one distanced themselves from me, not one single person,” Thomas said.

He still loves his ex-wife very much and they are friends, he added. Now he is single and feels like a teenager again. But life is still difficult because of rugby’s rigid culture, he said.

“It's pretty tough for me being the only international rugby player prepared to break the taboo.”