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It was in the desert in front of 40,000 in Dubai, but if he can go back and deliver a similar performance for the Wizards in the Indigo Group Premiership Cup Final at the Principality Stadium today, he will be more how happy. .

Aberavon take on Newport in the third and final game of day two of the ‘Road to Principality 2022’ showpiece matches. After Trimsaran against Bedwas and Bargoed against Neath in the championship events, the stage will be set for Thomas and his teammates to strut their stuff.

“I still have very vivid memories of 2009 – it’s a day in my life that will never leave me. I will think of this occasion when we miss the Principality and hope for a repeat,” said Thomas, 37. .

“I’ve always wanted to play a final in the home of Welsh rugby and I’m delighted we’ve been able to stay strong and successful this season. It was bitterly disappointing when COVID hit in 2019 and we had to face Merthyr in the semi-finals of the WRU Challenge Cup.

“It felt like a missed opportunity as we had real momentum behind us back then. Now we have the chance to fulfill our dream, although we know how tough it will be against Newport.

Throughout his professional career with the Scarlets, Gloucester, Dragons and London Welsh, he never had the chance to taste the special atmosphere of a final. He didn’t make the 23 when the Scarlets reached the PRO12 final.

Aled Thomas with the Melrose Cup

That’s why he intends to make the most of his last big day, even if it will probably be a little less clement than this beautiful day in Dubai.

“I remember coming out for the final and heading towards a wall of photographers. The crowd noise was incredible and for the first time in my career as a seven we lined up for the national anthems,” recalls Thomas. “It was special. Then we beat Argentina and won the World Cup!

If nothing will ever top that, he would certainly take a win at Aberavon today as a close second. He rode to Cardiff with his 11-year-old son Zac for kicking practice on Friday to get his bearings and knows the battle between his boot and that of Newport’s Will Reed could prove vital.

Reed is back in the Black & Amber group for the final after missing his last two league games due to Dragons call-ups. Significantly, Newport lost at home to RGC and Merthyr to lose their old grip on the Premiership title chase.

At 20, Reed is considered one of Wales’ rising No.10 stars and played for Wales U20 last year. One of his successors this year, Dan Edwards, learned his trade at Aberavon under Thomas’ tutelage this season.

“Will and Dan are both excellent prospects. Will works so well with Matt O’Brien in the Newport backline and will definitely be someone we have to watch,” Thomas said.

“I have loved working with Dan this season and I think he has a very bright future ahead of him. I think having a mix of experience and youth works well and while he pushes me to meet the highest standards to be selected, I like to think I can offer him the benefit of the knowledge I have. acquired during my professional career.

“I’ve signed for at least one more year and if I can help Dan fit into the Ospreys setup, I’ll feel like I’ve done him, the club and the game a favor.”

But today it’s all about winning. The Aberavon pack have a fearsome reputation and will want to get the upper hand from the set piece, while Newport will be looking for a smoother encounter.

Wales U18 coach O’Brien provides the ‘X-Factor’ in Newport’s back line and the stage is set for a classic encounter.