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Thomas learning from No 10 brains trust

Josh Thomas in action against Leinster.

Thomas learning from No 10 brains trust

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Wales U20 cap Josh Thomas knows he’s at the perfect finishing school for a would-be Wales outside half.

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After all, the Ospreys youngster currently has a quartet of high grade No 10s guiding his career at the Welsh region that would be the envy of almost every rugby club in the UK and beyond.

Thomas – whose team host the Italian side Zebre this weekend – has England cap Stephen Myler, Welsh internationals Gareth Anscombe and James Hook as well as the highly experienced Brock James overseeing his development at the Liberty Stadium.

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James, an Australian U21 cap who pulled the strings in European finals for Clermont Auvergne after deciding to leave his homeland for France, and Hook form the brains trust off the field as part of Toby Booth’s coaching set-up, while Myler and Anscombe, when he is fit, are vying for the 1st XV starting jersey.

“I’m pretty lucky,” says Thomas, who played for Wales U20s last season and Wales U18s before that. “There are some quality tens around me at the Ospreys and it’s up to me just to try and pick their brains.

“The one thing they all had, and which I’m trying to learn, is the ability to control a game. It’s about being able to manage things under pressure, make the right call and not panic.

“Stephen and Gareth do that now on the field, just as Brock and James did when they were playing. I’m still listening and learning.”

As a child, Thomas says he would watch Hook, who retied 12 months ago after 15 years in the professional game, strut his stuff for Wales on TV and also grab any opportunity to watch the European exploits of Clermont, with James calling the shots.

Now, the pair are his coaches, working under head man Booth, who has so far lived up to his word in giving youngsters their opportunity to progress from the academy to the senior side.

“This season, I think I’ve learned a hell of a lot from them all – how to not overplay in the wrong areas, when to chance things, it’s all about making those right calls,” added Thomas.

Thomas, who began his rugby at Pontarddulais, has impressed plenty of onlookers this season with his potential even if the requirement for Myler’s know-how has restricted the younger player to just four appearances so far this season.

It might have been more, but unlike most players in their mid-30s, Myler seems loathe to take a break towards the later stages of matches, meaning Thomas has often stayed on the bench.

He did, though, start against both Zebre – when the Ospreys lost narrowly out in Italy back in the autumn – and at home to Leinster, when the Pro 14 champions proved too strong.

“Playing against Zebre back in November was my first Pro 14 start and although it was a tough game, it was a great experience,” said Thomas.

“But I took some confidence from that game and the match against Leinster, too. As champions, they have a lot of physicality, so that was valuable learning.”

Thomas scored a try and kicked two conversions and a penalty out in Parma in that first start for his region, but still could not prevent the Ospreys from slipping to a 23-17 defeat.

It proved to be a tough month, with three defeats out of four, but since the turn of the year things have picked up for Booth’s men who will go into this weekend having won their last three games – against Cardiff Blues, the Dragons and Connacht.

Zebre have won two of their last three matches and although they stand bottom of Conference A, a win could even take them above both the Dragons and Glasgow depending on those two teams’ results on Friday night.

With Wales’ Six Nations players still in camp and not returning to their regions this weekend, the Ospreys’ game is a chance for fans to get a glimpse of some of the next generation, which very much includes Thomas.

The four men in his brains trust will be hoping he makes an impact, too, even though the youngster himself says his all-time favourite No.10 was outside that group entirely.

“My own real hero was Dan Carter. It was just the way he played – he was a guy who had it all. He could sit back and play in the areas where he wanted, but he also had that pace to spot a gap and go through it. As a player to watch all the time and take something from, he was the one,” he added.

 

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