Peter Thomas is relishing an exciting new era at Cardiff Rugby as the Blue and Blacks fully embrace their rich history and heritage following the recent brand realignment - a move he describes as the club ‘coming home'.
The Cardiff Rugby Life President has dedicated more than 50 years to the capital city outfit. First, as a hooker playing 11 times for the first team and predominantly the Rags, then as a patron and the club’s first chairman from the outset of professional rugby in 1996.
He held that position until January 1, 2019, when he was succeeded by Alun Jones, and took the honorary role of Life President while remaining on the board.
Cardiff Rugby remains one of Thomas’ great passions and he is still actively involved in the club and life in general at the Arms Park.
And to see the first team run out in the famous Blue and Black once more is something that fills Thomas with immense pride.
“It’s like coming home, quite frankly,” said the 78-year-old.
“I played for the club in the 1960’s with Gareth (Edwards), Barry (John) and Gerald (Davies) and it was a great period of my life.
“If you go anywhere in the world, New Zealand for example, and mention Cardiff Rugby, rugby people would know about Cardiff Arms Park.
“It’s heritage. You go back to 1876 and all the great names that have played for Cardiff. I suppose going into the regional rugby era we embraced that and changed the name.
“But I’m thrilled we are going back to Cardiff Rugby and I know our sponsors and suppliers are the same. Cardiff Rugby is known throughout the world and this is a great, new beginning for us.
“The name Cardiff Rugby speaks for itself. It has great presence, tradition and heritage. Cardiff Rugby has produced more British & Irish Lions than any other team. I think it’s over 60 Lions and I think next to us is Leicester with something like 40.
“Everywhere you go in the world, people mention Wales and they think of rugby and Cardiff and the Arms Park. You can’t buy that brand. From a business point of view, it’s absolutely everything.
“We want to add to that tradition. I played in the amateur era, but to go back to that tradition now is just wonderful.”
It is that deep respect and love for Cardiff Rugby that keeps Thomas involved in the club and he is determined to taste success once more.
Through his playing career he played with many of the greats of the second golden era of Welsh Rugby and the club were still frequently referred to as ‘The Greatest’, in the 1990s came multiple cup successes and touching distance of the first ever European crown, while during the regional era Cardiff have twice won the European Challenge Cup and the EDF Energy Cup once.
Many of those successes have been largely thanks to the substantial investments Thomas has made and while the focus today is on being self-sustainable, he believes now is the start of an exciting journey.
He continued: “It’s always been a great passion of mine. When I played for the club my mentors like Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews – all these sorts of wonderful guys – gave so much to us.
“When I was asked to come back in 1993 as a patron in the amateur game, it was for very much for me and my family a great love and passion. It’s a great honour to be a part of this club.
“We talked a few weeks ago – Alun, myself, Nigel Walker, Richard and Dai – and I reminded them that it was back in 2006 that we started to develop a side which in 2010 won the Amlin Cup in Marseille.
“When I think back to the players we had in the team that day – and no disrespect at all to our current team – it was very good.
“We had a front row of Taufa’ao Filise, TR Thomas and Gethin Jenkins. We had Paul Tito, Maama Molitika, Xavier Rush and Martyn Williams. Sam Warburton was on the bench!
“It took four or five years to get to that stage and in our conversation last week I said to Dai ‘We need to start now.’
“We know the areas we need to strengthen. We haven’t replaced Xavier Rush except temporarily with Nick Williams. We’ve got Navidi who can play No 8 and one or two other boys in the back-row, but Dai knows where he’s short.
“But look at the exciting backs we’ve got; Mason Grady, Ben Thomas, Max Llewellyn, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams, Josh Adams. They’re exciting players coming through but for us to get up there and compete in the play-offs and in Europe, it’s going to take three seasons.”
Thomas is acutely aware that further investment is still required if Cardiff Rugby are to compete in the latter stages of Europe once more and Welsh rugby is working collectively to increase incomes to the professional game. Chairman, Alun Jones, has also called on the club to find further revenue streams and exploit all opportunities to harness a greater self reliance.
But Thomas is confident that the foundation blocks are in place and he has been delighted with the impact and leadership shown by Dai Young following his return as director of rugby.
He added: “We are hopeful but also realistic. We are not ready this year. There will be changes and Dai will conduct those. He’s already explained what we need to do so we are very hopeful and excited, but very realistic about where we’ll be this season.
“There are two things in life which run a business and that’s people and product. One of the best things which has happened in Welsh rugby recently is the nomination of Nigel Walker to the Welsh Rugby Union as rugby development director. He is a brilliant rugby brain. He’s an Olympian and he will make great changes to the game and the national team.
“With Dai, he’s gone away, learned the game, and come back. The coaching staff he has with him here is getting better and better every year under his guidance and tuition which I’m sure will show its rewards.
“Dai and I go back over 26 years since I brought him back from rugby league in 1996. He was with us for 14 years as a player, assistant coach, and coach.
“He went away to learn what it’s like to work in a different environment, different and difficult circumstances and now he’s back as a mature, No 1 director of rugby.
“We’re very lucky to have him. He’s a very different person to what he was nine years ago. He’s calmer, far more mature and organised, and very realistic in his approach to the game.
“I’m delighted and very excited about the future.”