He helped oversee Wales’ capital club when rugby went professional and even signed New Zealand superstar Jonah Lomu – arguably the best player in history – for his team.
In 2018, he stepped down as chairman of Cardiff Blues, writing off all the £11million debt he was owed by the region.
Since then, he has nonetheless stayed at the centre of the business as life president and he has been at the centre of his team’s change of name this summer.
Cardiff Blues are now Cardiff Rugby ahead of the start of the 2021/22 United Rugby Championship season which will be the first of its kind.
Here, Thomas takes both take a trip down memory lane and look at the future of Wales’ capital club…
Question: What is your view on Cardiff Blues becoming Cardiff Rugby? Is it about embracing heritage and history?
Peter Thomas: “Well that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s heritage. You go back to 1876 and all the great names that have played for Cardiff. I suppose going into the regional rugby era we embraced that and changed the name.
“But I’m thrilled we are going back to Cardiff Rugby and I know our sponsors and suppliers are the same. Cardiff Rugby is known throughout the world and this is a great, new beginning for us.”
I’m thrilled we are going back to Cardiff Rugby and I know our sponsors and suppliers are the same. Cardiff Rugby is known throughout the world and this is a great, new beginning for us
Q: How much does it mean to you personally given your relationship with the club?
PT: “It’s like coming home, quite frankly. I played for the club in the 1960’s with Gareth, Barry and Gerald and it was a great period of my life. If you go anywhere in the world, New Zealand for example, and mention Cardiff Rugby, rugby people there would know about Cardiff Arms Park.
“We want to add to that tradition. We played in the amateur era, but to go back to that tradition now is just wonderful I think.”
Q: With your business hat on does this historic rebrand make sense?
PT: “The name Cardiff Rugby speaks for itself. It has great presence, tradition, and heritage. Cardiff Rugby has produced more British & Irish Lions than any other team.
“I think it’s over 70 Lions and I think next to us is Leicester with something like 40. Everywhere you go in the world, people mention Wales and they think of rugby and Cardiff and the Arms Park. You can’t buy that brand. From a business point of view, it’s absolutely everything.”
Q: Dai Young is back at Cardiff. What have you made of his return?
PT: “I’m delighted. Dai and I go back over 26 years since I brought him back from rugby league in 1996. He was with us for 14 years as a player, assistant coach, and coach. We used to have lots of discussions and he will tell you himself that I said to him if he wants to be Wales head coach, he’ll have to go away and learn what it’s like to work in difficult circumstances.
“He did that for nine years and now he’s back as a mature, No 1 director of rugby. We’re very lucky to have him. He’s a very different person to what he was nine years ago. He’s calmer, far more mature and organised, and very realistic in his approach to the game.”
Dai and I go back over 26 years since I brought him back from rugby league in 1996. He was with us for 14 years as a player, assistant coach, and coach
Q: Do you expect a decent improvement from Dai and the team this year?
PT: “We talked a few weeks ago – Alun Jones, myself, Nigel Walker, Richard Holland and Dai – and I reminded Dai that it was back in 2006 that we started to develop a side which in 2010 won the Amlin Cup in Marseille. When I think back to the players we had in the team that day – and no disrespect at all to our current team – it was very good. Even Josh Navidi would have struggled to get in that team. We had a front row of Taufa’ao Filise, TR Thomas and Gethin Jenkins. We had Paul Tito, Maama Molitika, Xavier Rush and Martyn Williams. Sam Warburton was on the bench!
“It took four or five years to get to that stage and in our conversation I said to Dai ‘We need to start now.’ We’ve got a squad of 54 players with 24 backs and 30 forwards. That’s too many for the new set-up we’ve got, but a year from now we’ll probably get that down to 44 to 46 players. We know the areas we need to strengthen. We haven’t replaced Xavier Rush except with Nick Williams.
“We’ve got Navidi who can play No 8 and one or two other boys in the back-row, but Dai knows where he’s short. Look at the exciting backs we’ve got; Mason Grady, Ben Thomas, Max Llewellyn, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams and Josh Adams. They’re exciting players coming through but for us to get up there and compete in the play-offs and in Europe, it’s going to take three seasons.”
Q: Quality overseas like Rush come at a cost?
PT: “The cost came from me! I remember very well I put £2million in that year! The imports were Ben Blair, an All Black. Casey Laulala, an All Black. Paul, Maama and Xavier were there too. They were the spine of the team 24/7. It took them four or five years to build and knit.
“What we need now are three or four of the Rush or Laulala-type players. In Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo we have two great players, but Rey is coming to the end of his career so we have to replace him. It’s not to say we won’t develop Mason, Max and Ben and Owen Lane.
“We’ve got a tremendous crop of young talent, but you do need some marquee players coming in.”
Q: Welsh rugby is a costly business and you have seen your money disappear with £11million of debts written off. What keeps you involved and putting such large sums of money in?
PT: “It’s always been a great passion of mine. When I played for the club my mentors like Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews – all these sorts of wonderful guys – gave so much to us. When I was asked to come back in 1993 as a patron in the amateur game, it was for very much a great love and passion for me and my family. It’s a great honour to be a part of this club.”
When I was asked to come back in 1993 as a patron in the amateur game, it was for very much a great love and passion for me and my family. It’s a great honour to be a part of this club
Q: It feels like this is the start of a new era for Cardiff. Are you hopeful for an exciting future?
PT: “We are hopeful but also realistic. We are not ready this year. There will be changes and Dai will conduct those. He will be pinpointing the following season and a couple of players. He’s already explained what we need to do so we are very hopeful and excited, but very realistic about where we’ll be this season.”
Q: Dai seems to bring stability. How important is that for Cardiff?
PT: “Absolutely, it’s important There are two things in life which run a business and that’s people and product. One of the best things which has happened in Welsh rugby recently is the nomination of Nigel Walker to the Welsh Rugby Union as rugby development director.
“He is a brilliant rugby brain.
“He’s an Olympian and he will make great changes to the game and the national team. With Dai, he’s gone away, learned the game, and come back. The coaching staff he has with him here is getting better and better every year under his guidance and tuition which I’m sure will show its rewards.”
One of the best things which has happened in Welsh rugby recently is the nomination of Nigel Walker to the Welsh Rugby Union as rugby development director. He is a brilliant rugby brain