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Sport The curious case of Dan Thomas, one of the best flankers in the English Premiership who may never get to play for Wales

02:06  14 august  2021
02:06  14 august  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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Towards the end of last term, TV pundit David Flatman picked one unassuming Welshman in a star-studded Gallagher Premiership team of the season.

When you get past the likes of Charles Piutau, Marcus Smith, Danny Care and John Afoa, eventually you get to Dan Thomas.

The 27-year-old openside flanker from Croesyceiliog was a regular in Flatman's 'team of the round' throughout the season and impressed a number of pundits with his man-of-the-match performances.

Helping Bristol Bears get to the Premiership semi-final, he made 202 tackles - more than any other Bristol player - with a completion rate of 91%, and also snaffled 11 turnovers.

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He was praised for his link play and was credited with doing the unseen work which allowed the superstars that Bristol have at their disposal to flourish.

Awarding him the man of the match during Bristol's win over Harlequins on Boxing Day in 2020, former England winger Ugo Monye branded him the "cement" in among all the big names.

Stuart Barnes also compared him to 85-cap Wales star Justin Tipuric, saying: "Bristol want to play a game that is un-English in its quest for space and creativity over brute strength, and Thomas stands out as an ideal link man.

"Traditional in his support work, he’s also fast to the floor and modern in his strength to jackal over the ball."

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And yet, despite all the plaudits he received last season, Wales never came calling.

Thomas began his career at the Scarlets but left due to a lack of opportunity and made his way to Bristol via Gloucester in a search for more regular first-team rugby.

The Wales Under-20s star has found himself a home at Ashton Gate and Wales boss Wayne Pivac is aware of his talents.

Speaking after Thomas was left out of Wales' 2021 summer squad, Pivac said: "I had a chat with Dan when I was down there. He is on our exiles list where we get their games and pull them apart each week.

"As I said in relation to the other players, we’ve gone with the two we have and remember, Josh Navidi is ultimately a seven who can play six and eight and do it very, very well.

"We think we’re well stocked at seven with Tips to come back into the fold later on."


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After Pivac's comments, Josh Navidi was called up by the Lions and Ospreys lock Rhys Davies, who the Wales management believe can play at blindside flanker, was called up to replace him.

Davies never featured in the summer Tests but it led to questions about why Thomas was overlooked.

"Dan is a player that is definitely of interest to us," said forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys at the time.

"But, for now, we want somebody who can cover the second row and back row. Rhys is of interest to us simply because of how physical he is and the way he plays his game.

"For that, to cover both positions, he was a good choice for us."

So where does it leave Thomas?

a group of young men playing a game of football: Dan Thomas in action against Harlequins © Henry Browne/Getty Images Dan Thomas in action against Harlequins

At the age of 28, he is by no means old but there is a plethora of younger flankers emerging who Pivac may be looking at as long-term answers in the back row.

Given the position is so well stocked in Wales, the odds on a call-up are slimmer than, perhaps, in other departments in the squad.

Aside from the handful of quality players who have already been capped in the position, there is also the Ospreys' Jac Morgan and Leicester Tigers flanker Tommy Reffell, who will also feel like they've deserved a call.

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But when you're pulling up trees on a weekly basis in arguably the most competitive league in the world, then you've got a right to be asking questions.

Unfortunately, the question Thomas may now be asking himself is whether or not the call will ever come.

On the surface, getting the nod for a series of development matches against Canada and Argentina would have seemed as likely a prospect as an uncapped player like him has ever had.

The fact he was overlooked for initial selection and again when Navidi departed for South Africa will have left him frustrated.

Looking at the international schedule, a call-up for the daunting autumn Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Australia would seem improbable.

Then Pivac's side head into tournament rugby where, again, Pivac is likely to go with familiar faces.

Following that will be the scheduled tour to South Africa in the summer of 2022, which would appear to be Thomas' next best opportunity.

But by then, will Pivac deem it too late to be introducing new faces, a little more than a year out from the 2023 Rugby World Cup?

And is the backyard of the world champion Lion tamers the right place to do it?

Only the boss will know, but Thomas' chances would appear to be shrinking with each passing campaign.

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