One to watch: Ben Thomas

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This season has seen a number of young players break into the first team and make a real impact, especially during international windows to keep the dream of reaching the play-offs alive.

Rhys Carre and Shane Lewis-Hughes, both of whom have been looked at in the ‘one to watch’ series previously, have both been regular members of the Pro14 matchday squad, while Liam Belcher, Corey Domachowski, Harri Millard, Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill have all been getting plenty of game time in recent weeks.

Just below that though there is another wave of young talent ready to break into the first team squad, and leading that is Ben Thomas, who has been instrumental in Cardiff RFC’s march towards the top of the Principality Premiership this season.

His name has been on the radar for a while, having come through Cardiff Schools, Cardiff Blues U16 and U18, played for Cardiff & Vale College and Cardiff University, and been selected for Wales U18 and Wales U20, as well as breaking into the Cardiff RFC last season, playing primarily at fly-half along the way.

Ben Thomas analysis 1RFC Attack analysis 10 1Carmarthen Ben Thomas kick 1

A calm temperament when standing at first receiver, and a slick pair of hands to go with it, gives Thomas what seems to be plenty of time to pick out a pass, particularly on the first clip as he goes flat enough to the defensive line to draw out a defender and then pick Will Rees-Hole out on a superb line.

It leaves the Aberavon defender in no man’s land, and that ability to play flat to the line is what gives Jack Roberts the opportunity to break through in the second clip too, as the defence can’t get set for the crash ball line while having to keep an eye on Thomas.

With a solid game management side to his play, and a handy boot to put the ball into open space in the third clip, it would certainly appear he has the ability to play fly-half.

RFC Attack analysis 5 1RFC Attack analysis 2 1RFC Attack analysis 9 1

However, as you may notice from the number on his back, Thomas has seen a slight change to his position this season so far.

After making the majority of his appearances in fly-half during 2017/18, he has made 10 of his 12 starts during this campaign at inside centre, and really made the spot his own with his fly-half skillset coming in very useful for Cardiff’s expansive attacking style.

In position as the player deeper on the pullback pass, the point of the attack is changed and his playmaking skills can bring players into play from wider, stretching the defence. This offers some shoulders to run at on a short angle, as in the first clip, or space out wide to move into, as in the second clip.

What Thomas also has in his locker though, which makes him such an effective inside centre especially when this play is called, is a strong carrying game.

Carmarthen Ben Thomas carry 1Ponty Ben Thomas line break

Whether running more of a crash ball line, where he half-breaks a tackle through a mix of pace and power against Carmarthen and could look for the offload, or stepping past a more than capable outside centre in Pontypridd’s Alex Knott and making good ground, Thomas is a threat on his own two legs.

This is why he has had such a superb return on tries this season, with nine in 13 games for Cardiff RFC so far.

Ben Thomas analysis 4Ben Thomas analysis 5

A strong carrying game and a high level of rugby intelligence sees him able to read where attacks are going and put himself in scoring positions.

Starting the move and tracking inside all the way in the second clip means that when the Llanelli player makes a meal of covering the kick through, he is on hand for a simple run-in, while the first clip he is in the ideal place to take the offload and go past the full-back to score.

Interestingly, that offload comes from fellow Cardiff Blues academy player Max Llewellyn, a centre partnership to keep an eye on for the future.

Ponty Ben Thomas tackle 2Ponty Ben Thomas tacklePonty Ben Thomas tackle 3

Add in a strong defensive game, that shows his athletic ability to prevent players breaking around the outside in the first clip, his strength to hold the carrier up and take him towards the touchline in the third clip, and the technique to put in a big tackle in the second clip.

It is key to remember that these clips are from the semi-professional Principality Premiership, and that Thomas still has some stepping up to do, but you can’t ask for much more from a young player on the way through the pathway than to take this stage of it by storm.

Along with some of the young backs mentioned at the start of the piece, as well as Dane Blacker, Ben Jones, Cam Lewis, Corey Howells, Ioan Davies and the aforementioned Llewellyn, there is a wealth of talent coming through and an exciting backs division in the offing.

Ben Thomas could well be at the heart of that, the high quality footballing inside centre that Cardiff Blues and Wales have been looking for. The future is still looking bright!

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