By Hannah Blackwell
Gareth Thomas is backing Tommy Reffell to fill the void left by the ‘outstanding’ Justin Tipuric and play a key role in Wales’ World Cup charge.
The emergence of flanker Reffell was one of the bright spots of Wayne Pivac’s reign as Wales boss but the Leicester Tigers man started just one match during the 2023 Six Nations following Warren Gatland’s return.
Tommy Reffell glides over for his first international try for Wales
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) July 16, 2022
But with Tipuric and fellow back row Josh Navidi having called time on their international careers in the past two months, Gatland may be forced to turn to Reffell, which Thomas believes could be a blessing in disguise.
“Reffell has that ability, like Tipuric, to not be too flash but to get the job done and to do the work a flanker is supposed to do,” said Thomas.
“He puts his head in places, understands when is a good time to go for the ball and he’s a really intelligent rugby player and when you have someone who is one step ahead of the rest, that shows a quality player.”
Reffell has already shown his temperament in big matches, having won the 2022 Premiership final with Leicester before claiming the Player of the Match award in just his second international cap as Wales beat South Africa for the first time away from home.
— Dai Sport (@Dai_Sport_) May 15, 2023
Thomas believes a player of Reffell’s quality will prove invaluable as Wales look to rebuild under Gatland and shake off a disappointing run of form which has seem them to slip to ninth in the world rankings.
“Especially against teams like Fiji, you want someone who is going to disrupt their ability to play with the ball, someone who is a pain and Reffell has that in abundance,” said Thomas, who was speaking as part of his Tackle HIV Three Peaks challenge to demonstrate that living with HIV need not be a barrier to achieving anything, and to celebrate how far science and medicine have come in the last few decades.
“That’s his game so going into this World Cup, back row is key. Someone like that against Fiji would be a priceless commodity.”
— Bryntirion Rugby (@BryntirionRugby) June 7, 2023
Ospreys legend Tipuric had been named in Gatland’s 54-player training squad for the tournament in France along with record cap holder Alun Wyn Jones but the pair announced their shock retirements within the space on an hour last month, leaving Wales’ World Cup preparations in turmoil.
Jones has already received huge plaudits for his contributions to Welsh rugby but Thomas believes the endeavours of 93-cap Tipuric should not be overlooked.
“I’m not sure if for the first part of his career he was appreciated for the player he was,” added Thomas.
“He was an outstanding all-round player and they come along very rarely. He does things even some backs couldn’t even dream of doing.
“To replace him will be difficult because he’s not a typical back rower.
“But I think you can build your game plan around the quality of another flanker, someone like Reffell, who is a different style.”
— Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14) June 5, 2023