NEWPORT Gwent Dragons flanker Gavin Thomas has retired through injury.
The 34-year-old, who was capped 24 times by Wales, has hung up his boots because of problems with both of his knees.
Thomas arrived at Rodney Parade in 2009 after having his contract controversially terminated by the Scarlets after he snapped his Achilles tendon.
It proved to be an inspired signing and he went on to make 65 appearances for the region, forcing his way back into the international reckoning in the process.
Thomas ended a three-year Test absence when he was called up to Wales’ tour of New Zealand in 2010 to lock horns with All Blacks great Richie McCaw.
Head coach Darren Edwards believes the region will not only miss the breakdown prowess of the flanker, who captained the Dragons four times, but his link play.
“Gavin was an integral part of my plans when I arrived at the Dragons as attack coach,” said Edwards.
“He was a fantastic all-round player who was great in the contact area and his playmaking skills were second to none.
“Gavin came to the region on the back of a serious injury and ended up having three terrific seasons here. That is testament to him as a competitor and a person.
“There were countless times when I didn’t think he would be able to take to the field because of injury and then he would put in a man-of-the-match performance.
“Gavin would always say to me, ‘Don’t look at the age on my passport, look at what I do on the pitch’ and he was a fantastic player and servant for the Dragons. He was a man of few words in the changing room but he demonstrated to his teammates through his actions. He was a great influence and delivered what he said, and delivered consistently.
“I wouldn’t say that he was the most flashy but he just did the right things at the right time and that sort of players is invaluable.”
The retirement of Thomas, who was out of contract, leaves Lewis Evans and Darren Waters as prime candidates for the number 7 jersey.
The pair benefited from the tutorship of the 34-year-old last season and Edwards says they now have to take the next step.
“I can think of no better role model for them than Gavin and last season he was a great help in our back row clinics after training,” he said.
“Last year we picked Gavin at number eight at Ulster and Darren, who was playing openside, said that he spent all game just following him!
“Both Lewis and Darren have learnt so much from him and now they need to try and follow in his footsteps.”