'J.T' - a flag-bearing rugby ambassador for Pembrokeshire!

Jonathan with his hero - his mum!

Jonathan Thomas earned 67 Welsh caps in a long and distinguished rugby career at club level with Swansea, The Ospreys and Worcester Warriors – and prior to this awful shutdown with Covid 19 was having an exciting season as one of the top younger coaches with a Bristol Bears’ side that was doing really well in the English Premiership.
And perhaps even more exciting for the Hundleton/Stackpole boy was the fact that he was already looking forward to another challenge because after four years at Bristol, where he has been very much part of the transformation of the club alongside head coach Pat Lam, he is due to take up  another challenge when he returns to Worcester Warriors.
So we were delighted when ‘J.T.’ agreed to a telephone chat to discuss his wonderful rugby involvement, where he has shone in everything he has undertaken – but still retained his basic belief in always doing things the right way!

Surprise move for ‘One-Club’ man

“To be honest I had prided myself on the fact that I was a one-club man and wasn’t planning to move anywhere from the Ospreys but in 2013 Worcester coach Dean Ryan convinced me that I would relish the challenge of playing in England and he was right!
“It was the first time that I had ever lived outside Wales so moving house was a big thing but everyone at the club was very welcoming and the intensity of playing against all the top clubs and players in England was immense because every match was like a cup final and the atmosphere created by fanatical supporters and big crowds was something to experience.
“I was surprised to be made captain and always tried to lead by example because gone were the days when the skipper just made a rant before the game – and top Welsh captains like Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones provide the perfect example.

Holding the trophy after helping to coach The Barbarians

Every match a cup final

“Matches against Bristol and Gloucester were always special events and I loved playing there but eventually had to decide to retire on medical grounds after receiving total support from all at the club.”
Jonathan told us,
"I really enjoyed my time with Worcester Warriors in what was obviously a transitional time for the Club, with so many talented young players stepping up alongside us more experienced players.

"My lasting memories on a rugby pitch will always be the two-legged play-off final against Bristol and that is something that will stay with me forever.

"Everyone at the Club was great to me and I wished them every success for the future, none more so than the loyal Warriors supporters. I have no doubt that will be the case with the facilities, coaches and vision the Club has, from the Board level down to the Academy. 


Doing a great job as a World Cup pundit – but delighted to be back involved with a club

“It was a worrying time and for a while I did some media work with both radio and television as a pundit at big matches, which was really interesting to see how things worked and was another new challenge for me.
“But I knew deep down it wasn’t for me long term and a part of me wasn’t being fulfilled because I still wanted an involvement in something that was what I had always been doing.
“It was at this time that I was approached by Andy Robinson,  the  Bristol Bears’ head coach and  was offered a job with the title of ‘Transition Coach’ which meant that my major responsibility was for the club’s academy players but also with first team development – although from the outset ‘Robbo’ asked me to be defence coach.
“But then ‘Robbo’ got sacked after two months and Pat Lam was installed after huge success at Irish club Connacht – and sometimes it means the new broom will want to sweep clean with his own choice of coaches.”


Robbo’ goes – but JT forms a partnership with New Zealander Lam


“However, Pat contacted me and said he would like to interview me for the job and after a 40-minute informal chat I was offered the post of forwards’ coach and started three years involvement together in which I learned so much.
“Pat and I shared a vision that Bristol had a huge potential rugby-wise because there was no premier league football and people were itching to watch sport at the highest level – and we both believed that it wasn’t the coaching that was the absolute main factor in success but the vision that total commitment and a pride in the club, on and off the field, was vital.
“Pat really had the X-Factor with players, including those who weren’t necessarily star quality but gave 100% as seasoned professionals, came from championships clubs and lacked some experience, or other clubs where they hadn’t realised their potential, and he really pushed them on – and I was proud that during my three years working with him a shared his work.
“In 2017/18 we won the RFU Championship to re-enter the Premiership and this season so abruptly ended saw us doing fantastically well under Bears’ owner Steve Lansdowne, who is fanatical about the city of Bristol and  also owns Bristol City AFC. and chairman Chris Booy.”

Jonathan and family keeping fit

Becoming a ‘Warrior’ again - and looking forward to returning to Sixways Stadium


When Jonathan’s departure was announced he was still working really hard for The Bears and told us,
“First and foremost, my focus has been on the Bears and our goals, so I could leave on a high note next summer, hopefully with silverware. That’s what the fans of this club deserved as they are true supporters and have been outstanding the whole time, through thick and thin.”
But he added,
“The only drawback has been the amount of travel to Bristol since my wife Laura and I, plus children Kobi, Maya and Rudy, love where we live in a little village called Bredon, where the children go to school and there is a great community spirit.
“We moved there when I started out with Worcester and we didn’t want to move when I joined Bristol – but it means an hour each day in travel and although the club is locked down I have still been in touch with players in revising coaching and lots of other things they need to know.
“Coaching at the top level requires a huge amount of time and emotional investment and, ultimately, you’re always juggling your work-life balance.  Obviously, I’m a former Warrior with a close affinity and passion for the club and its supporters. When Alan Solomons and the new owners spoke to me about the opportunity and explained the exciting vision they have, it was something that I felt was right for me personally and professionally.
“We live quite close to the Sixways Stadium in Worcester so next season will see me having far less travelling to do and another challenge since the Warriors have so many talented young players breaking through.
“I had little thought of change, however, until I was contacted by Alan, the Director of Rugby, with the chance to come in as forwards’ coach and work alongside highly-rated backs’ coach Matt Sherratt, and scrum guru Mark Irish, who comes with me from Bristol, where we had a close working relationship.”


Going back to an early start at Crickmarren – and captain of Swansea at 19!


Jonathan started his playing days as a nipper at Pembroke RFC, where he was initially coached by Geraint Griffiths and Mark Evans, and then through his teens by Clive ‘Tosh’ Rowlands and Neil Machin.
“When Pembroke didn’t have a team in my age group I regularly played up two years alongside Viv Davies, Stuart Tyrie and Chris Shelmerdine to name but a few useful players -  but then came the move to Swansea in my final year of youth rugby.
“I was in the first team at 19 as captain in a side that included stars like Scott Gibbs, Colin Charvis, Mark Taylor, Arwel Thomas and Garin Jenkins but they were all ready to help and I really enjoyed the experience.
“I played 25 games before the merger came with Neath to form The Ospreys and so began over a decade of regional rugby and it was a bit of an irony that I gained my first cap for Wales before I played for the newly-formed region!”

Jonathan and Family relaxing

Played a record number of games for The Ospreys – and at all levels for Wales


His club career took off with The Ospreys, where he scored 14 tries in 188 games for the Ospreys, a record number of appearances he jointly holds with Andrew Bishop.
“During that exciting time we won the Celtic League on four occasions, and the Anglo-Welsh Cup, with the effervescent Lyn Jones as a very good coach, who was sometimes seen as eccentric but was held in high esteem by the players.”
With regard to his Welsh international career Jonathan must be one of that rare breed which has played at every level, starting with the Welsh Under 16s before moving on at  Youth, Under 19 and Under 21s – and even with the Welsh Sevens’ team.
“Relatively few know about my involvement in sevens, which came when I was a student at Swansea Institute. I was invited to join the Welsh squad and in an amazing time we travelled to places as far flung as Dubai, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It was great fun and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Celebrating the 2008 Grand Slam


Welsh debut in front of 96,000 – and almost 100 faxes!


“Then came my debut match at senior level when I was 20, against then-World Champions Australia in 2003 at the Olympic Stadium, where there about 96,000 noisy supporters, and I’ll never forget the experience of running out on the pitch. Steve Hansen called me up after some injuries for the two-match pre-world cup tour and I also played against New Zealand for as tough a start as anyone could make.”
“Making his debut in the centre for New Zealand was Dan Carter, who later became the No 1 No 10 in the world and who ran a superb centre like Mark Taylor ragged that day.”
There were no mobile phones, texts or social media in those days and lots of people used fax messages as their main means of communication and Jonathan still chuckles when he recalls that during the course of his stay down under he had almost 100 faxes wishing him well – almost all from Pembrokeshire – and he readily admits that he still doesn’t know how people knew where the hotels were in which they were staying!
During his 67 caps he scored seven tries and was included in every Welsh squad from 2004 to 2011 in the Six Nations competition.  He was also heavily involved in the 2005 and 2008 ‘Grand Slam’ successes. Throw in Two World Cups and it is easy to see what a contribution he made to Welsh rugby as a player.


And finally . . .


As we have already reported, Jonathan is also making a great name for himself as a coach - and  he joined Pat Lam in coaching The Barbarians against England, a splendid spectacle which showed the best of rugby.
Mr Lam clearly rates Jonathan highly because when news of his departure came he really praised Jonathan and said he would be a great asset to The Warriors. The mutual respect they have for each other is clear and we could pay Jonathan Thomas no higher compliment – and of course we wish him continued coaching success next season because he is really flying the Pembrokeshire Flag with distinction in all he does as a gentleman of rugby!

On the charge against New Zealand in the 2003 world cup