When Cardiff playmaker Ben Thomas steps onto the Principality Stadium turf on Saturday to make his bow on the international stage, it will be a testament to those who have played a part in his journey.
From family and friends to the rugby sides he represented, such as St Peter’s RFC, Corpus Christi High School and Cardiff Schools.
However, it will a particularly proud moment for Cardiff & Vale College, as the academy product is set to become the college’s first alumni to win a full Test cap for Wales.
Thomas, who will start on the bench, might be the trailblazer but with a number of players graduating from CAVC into the Cardiff Rugby academy in recent seasons, it would be fair to suggest he won’t be the last to achieve such honours.
The life-long Cardiff fan turned his back on a scholarship at Millfield in order to join the rugby academy at his home city, and his rapid rise to the top shows it’s a decision which has paid off.
Cardiff & Vale’s rugby director Martyn Fowler, explains: “Our rugby programme is only five years old and Ben will become our first full international if he comes on. But there are plenty of other candidates in the pipeline.
“We’ve got three former players in the current Wales U20 squad and Jacob Beetham just scored two tries against the French. Evan Lloyd was at scrum half and Nathan Evans at tight head prop.
“The moment we convinced Ben to come into our programme from Corpus Christi we knew he had the potential to go all the way.
“He has had to work hard, really hard to get to where he is now and the exciting thing is there is still so much more to come from him.
“I’d like to think our rugby programme played a part in his development and we are very lucky that we get so much backing and encouragement from our chief executive Mike James and Group Principal, Kay Martin.
“I’m sure they will be looking on with a great amount of pride as and when Ben gets his chance to go on against Canada.”
While Fowler will miss the match due to his daughter’s wedding, a certain Dan Fish will be keeping a close eye on affairs at Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The Arms Park fan favourite, who is now part of the academy’s backroom team, started his coaching career under Fowler at Cardiff & Vale College and is proud to see the progress made by Thomas.
Fish said: “Ben’s achievements is a huge testament to his hard work and that drive, ability and work ethic was clear to see on a daily basis when he was a youngster at the college. He set the example for those around him and those that have followed him.
“I know everyone at the college has been extremely proud of his progress and achievements, and he’s an inspiration to everyone who comes into the system.
“The speed of his progression was a bit frightening for myself, as it meant I went from coach to his team-mate pretty quickly, but he’s fully deserved his opportunities for both Cardiff and Wales.
“To see an international graduating from the college after only five years of the academy’s existence is a clear indication of the work being done there.
“Being part of the academy team at Cardiff Rugby, we’re fortunate to have excellent A Licence schools and colleges within our region, and it’s great to see Cardiff and Vale College joining the likes of Coleg y Cymoedd, Ysgol Glantaf and Whitchurch High School in producing players that feature at the highest level of the game.”
Thomas returns to play at the national stadium for the first time since his try-scoring display for Cardiff RFC in the 2019 WRU Challenge Cup final win over Merthyr.
The Cardiff-born, Cardiff bred playmaker is delighted that his biggest supporter - mother, Linda - will be in attendance for the big moment.
“It doesn’t feel it was that long ago I was playing for Cardiff (RFC), so it is a bit of a surreal feeling getting ready to play for Wales. Hopefully, I can just carry on the form I’ve had, and just show I can adapt to this environment and settle into the pattern of play,” added Thomas.
“It will definitely be a bit of a new challenge covering so many positions in the back line. I haven’t played at No10 too much this year, but I have had a good few weeks training there, so it is just about getting used to the systems.
“It will definitely be a step up from regional rugby. The intensity of international rugby is something I’ve not experienced. Everything is scrutinised and it is a really high-pressure environment.
“It’s exciting, really exciting. It has been a really good week so far, and I can’t wait for Saturday to come.
“I get nervous just thinking about it! It’s going to be a dream come true for me and we are quite lucky that our families are going to be there to watch us.”
Speaking to Cardiff Blues earlier this season, Thomas explained the influence of his mother on his career: “I was born and raised in Cardiff, and for the majority it was me, my mum and my brother and sister.
“I think it’s safe to say that she had her hands full with us three running a riot in the house when we were kids.
“I had a really good childhood. My mum was a real inspirational figure in my life. Between the three of us, we probably don’t give her enough credit, but she played a huge role in all of our upbringings.
“When it came to us playing sports, she’d be dropping us to different places and everything is owed to her. Although, I probably don’t tell her that enough.
“When I’m out there playing, especially in the bigger games, you want to do well as a way of paying back for everything she’s done for us.
“It’s something that she can be proud of, especially after all the hard work she put in to help me achieve this.”