THE RETURN from injury of seasoned hooker T Rhys Thomas gives the Newport Gwent Dragons a huge boost as they look to do the double over Bordeaux-Bègles.
The experience of the 31-year-old Wales international who played in the 2007 World Cup on the way to winning 27 caps for his country will be invaluable in the cauldron of the Stade André Moga on Thursday night.
Thomas knows this competition well having lifted the Amlin Challenge Cup trophy with the Cardiff Blues who stunned Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon 28-21 in the 2010 final at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome.
He is set to play in his first game for the Dragons for nearly three months after hurting his ankle in the early stages of his side’s 23-16 victory over the Scarlets in the league at Rodney Parade on September 20.
Thomas had been expected to be out of action until the start of 2014 but has made a rapid recovery and his leadership will be priceless as the French look to bounce back from last week’s hammering.
The Dragons forwards are also bolstered by the return of their 6ft 4in and 18st 2lb Argentine tighthead prop Francisco Tetaz Chaparro who missed that stunning 40-24 bonus point victory over Bordeaux-Bègles at Rodney Parade.
The home side’s scrum was in all sorts of trouble against a juggernaut French pack that night but the 24-year-old knows all about the rigours of competing against beefy Top 14 opposition having joined the Gwent region this season from Stade Français.
Wing Hallam Amos, 19, who won his first Wales cap in the 17-7 triumph over Tonga at the Millennium Stadium last month and was one of the Dragons’ five try scorers on Friday, is rested for this week's encounter.
The Dragons have also confirmed the good news that a raft of players plagued by injury are about to make imminent returns.
Head physiotherapist Ben Searle said: “Darren Waters (back-rower out after hurting his knee) and Lewis Robling (outside-half nursing a knee problem) are both progressing very well and should make their return after Christmas.
“Jack Dixon (centre) is also progressing very well from his foot injury.
“Tom Prydie (full-back/wing out with a hamstring injury) should return to full training in two weeks or so and Jonathan Evans (scrum-half recovering from blow to his shoulder) is currently participating in light training with the squad.”
No 9 Luc Jones, son of Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones, is available for selection on Thursday evening after he recovered from a knee injury.
Newport Gwent Dragons squad for Bordeaux-Bègles – Backs: D Evans, M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith, R Wardle, J Tovey, S Jones, W Evans, R Rees, L Jones, A Hughes, W Harries. Forwards: O Evans, S Parry, T R Thomas, N Buck, F Chaparro, A Coombs (captain), M Screech, R Sidoli, L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau, N Talei.