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Ex-England prop will ‘bring something different’ – Gatland

By PA
Wales Preliminary Rugby World Cup 2023 Squad Announcement – Vale Resort – Monday 1st May

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has promised seven-times capped England prop Henry Thomas will “bring something different” to their preliminary World Cup training squad.

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Montpellier tighthead Thomas, who has played for Sale and Bath in the Gallagher Premiership, was capped by England between 2013 and 2014 and has served World Rugby’s stand down period of three years to represent another country.

Thomas, 31, was the major selection surprise in Gatland’s 54-man training squad, which will be cut to 33 for the World Cup in France this September.

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Scarlets loose head prop Wyn Jones – a British and Irish Lion in 2021 – and Exeter-bound Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins were notable absentees.

“He was involved last year with Montpellier winning the league and we think his experience will bring something different,” Gatland said of the Kingston upon Thames-born Thomas, who qualifies through his Welsh father.

“Jonathan Humphries (forwards coach) reached out and had a conversation with him about being potentially available.

“He was at Sale a number of years ago, they saw him as the big thing and had a lot of time at Bath before moving onto Montpellier.

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“You’ve got to be pretty tough to play up front in France given how big some of the forwards are there.

“You’ve got to bring a physical element and be strong at the set-piece. He has also got some good ball-carrying ability and is pretty mobile getting around the park.

“We think he will give us some competition in the front row. He’s been around, so he will hopefully come in and make an impression.”

Jones was omitted from the World Cup less than two years after playing for the Lions in South Africa, while the five-times capped Hawkins has fallen foul of the Welsh Rugby Union’s 25-cap policy following his move to Devon.

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Players who play outside Wales must have 25 caps to represent their country, the number having been reduced from 60 in February.

Thomas is not caught under the rule as he has yet to play for Wales, but he would have to return to play in the country after his current Montpellier deal expires should he be capped in the meantime.

On Hawkins’ exclusion, Gatland said: “He’s made his decision to go to Exeter and I’ve spoken to him two or three times.

“We told him he was a big part of our future and definitely in the 23, either in the midfield or at 10.

“We are disappointed that he’s made that decision. He feels at the moment that going to play club rugby in England will be good for his development.

“He felt that he was potentially undervalued a little bit. He’s been offered a pretty significant deal and he’s made that decision to move on.

“I’ve got to respect that decision but, from a coaching perspective, we’re disappointed to lose someone of his potential and his talent at least for the next few years.”

Dragons forward Will Rowlands, who has agreed to join French club Racing 92 next season, has been included despite having only 23 caps to his name.

Rowlands’ registration will remain in Wales during the summer and Gatland’s side have three World Cup warm-up games in August that could take him to the threshold required.

“The PRB (Professional Rugby Board) have said that Will Rowlands is eligible,” Gatland said.

“He’s still with the Dragons until the end of the year. He might get a couple more games which would make him eligible from the point of the 25-cap rule.”

Ten uncapped players have been named in the squad, among them Cardiff prop Corey Domachowski, who is preferred to Jones.

Veterans include Alun Wyn Jones – who is set to play at his fifth World Cup – Taulupe Faletau, George North and Leigh Halfpenny, who has 99 caps and was released by the Scarlets at the end of the season.

Hooker Ken Owens led Wales in this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship, but Gatland has not named a World Cup captain at this stage.

Forwards (31)

Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby – 20 caps)
Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Kemsley Mathias (Scarlets – uncapped)
Nicky Smith (Ospreys – 42 caps)
Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 21 caps)
Eliott Dee (Dragons – 41 caps)
Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 33 caps)
Dewi Lake (Ospreys – 8 caps)
Ken Owens (Scarlets – 91 caps)
Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Will Davies-King (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 71 caps)
Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 50 caps)
Henry Thomas (Montpellier – uncapped)
Adam Beard (Ospreys – 46 caps)
Ben Carter (Dragons – 9 caps)
Rhys Davies (Ospreys – 2 caps)
Cory Hill (Yokohama Canon Eagles – 32 caps)
Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 6 cap)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 157 caps)
Will Rowlands (Dragons – 23 caps)
Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs – 5 caps)
Teddy Williams (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Taine Basham (Dragons – 11 caps)
Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 100 caps)
Dan Lydiate (Ospreys – 68 caps)
Josh Macleod (Scarlets – 2 caps)
Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 9 caps)
Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 9 caps)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 93 caps)
Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 37 caps)

Backs (23)

Gareth Davies (Scarlets – 67 caps)
Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 17 caps)
Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 40 caps)
Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 45 caps)
Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys – 35 caps)
Dan Biggar (Toulon – 107 caps)
Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 2 caps)
Owen Williams (Ospreys – 7 caps)
Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
Max Llewellyn (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
George North (Ospreys – 113 caps)
Joe Roberts (Scarlets – uncapped)
Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 27 caps)
Johnny Williams (Scarlets – 5 caps)
Keiran Williams (Ospreys – uncapped)
Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 49 caps)
Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys – 57 caps)
Rio Dyer (Dragons – 7 caps)
Cai Evans (Ospreys – uncapped)
Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 99 caps)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 25 caps)
Tom Rogers (Scarlets – 2 caps)
Liam Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 84 caps)

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