Rising Cardiff star Ben Thomas has paid tribute to Gethin Jenkins after picking up the Best Newcomer title at the Principality Premiership awards.
The 20-year-old has come under the direction of Jenkins at the Arms Park, following the move of the former Wales prop into coaching under Cardiff head coach Steve Law.
Thomas – who plays at both outside-half and inside centre – said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this season. We’ve had a strong run and Steve Law has been massive for us, both in his recruitment and throughout the season.
“I’ve felt it’s been a really good stepping stone for me coming out of age grade rugby – both with the physicality and technical aspects. Learning from players like Martin Roberts and Morgan Allen has helped hugely.
“I was part of the Regional A side at the start of the season and it was a smooth transition for me after that, especially with Gethin Jenkins and Rhys Thomas involved in both set-ups.
“Gethin has instilled a professionalism within the squad and put a new defensive structure in place. When you have someone like Gethin analysing your performances, you try not to miss your tackles!”
Thomas, a former pupil of Corpus Christi School in Cardiff and Cardiff Blues academy product, followed in the footsteps of Alun Wyn Jones, Tom James and Toby Faletau in collecting the award.
The former Wales U20 pivot played 19 games for the Blue and Blacks this season helping them claim their first silverware since 2009 with the National Cup victory and pushing Merthyr all the way to the finish, eventually finishing in second place.
The Player of the Year and Coach of the Year accolades went to Craig Locke and Dale McIntosh, captain and head coach of treble title winners Merthyr.
Assistant coach Gavin Dacey paid tribute to the pair when he said: “Dale has had a huge impact on our whole club. He’s been instrumental to our success over the last three or four years, what he’s done to the environment, what we do, how we play.
“He’s been in the game a long time as a player, played with some quality coaches, been involved in player development. We are lucky enough to be around him.
“Personally, as assistant coach, I’ve learned a lot from him. Someone like Paddy McBride has come to us from Hirwaun as a raw athlete and he’s taken him from Division Three rugby to being on the shortlist for Principality Premiership Best Newcomer so that sums up what ‘Chief’ can do.”
Dacey believes that in Craig Locke the club has a true leader who lifts the side every time he plays.
“Craig has been fantastic for us over the last four years. He does all the hard yards and really leads from the front. It’s great to see him get this award, one he richly deserves. When he’s on the pitch, players look across to him and feel taller just from being around him.
“It’s a big challenge to keep the momentum going and continue to be successful. There are no easy games, especially this season, clubs have had nothing to lose when they’ve come to The Wern.
“But it’s not just about picking up trophies. It’s also about building a legacy and developing local talent and flying the flag for the town.”
Adam Jones won the Principality Premiership Referee of the Year award for the third season, Pontypridd won the Fairplay award for the best discipline record and there was a special recognition award for Bridgend chairman Derrick King.
Ospreys and Wales centre Owen Watkin presented Pontypridd’s Alex Webber the top try scorer award while Cardiff Blues and fellow Wales Six Nations squad member Jarrod Evans presented the top points scorer award to Ebbw Vale’s Rhys Jones.
Steve Hughes, CEO of Principality Building Society, said: “Principality Building Society has had a fantastic relationship with the Premiership going back 14 years and the league is something we have held close to our heart but this was our last as sponsors of this wonderful league.
“Sponsoring the Premiership has created opportunities for people to enjoy life through sport and helps to create memorable experiences for our members and communities.
“Our partnership with the WRU doesn’t end here, of course, as we will continue to support the National Youth Leagues. We’ve had a great reaction from the local youth clubs for the support we have given them in the past two years and it has been a pleasure to bring the emerging rugby community together.”