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Gareth Thomas' return to his field of dreams

Gareth Thomas
Thomas scores a try for Wales at the Millennium Stadium

By Aled Williams

Gareth Thomas can proudly say: "I was there" the day the Millennium Stadium opened its doors in June 1999.

Thomas scored a try on that historic afternoon as Wales secured a first win over then world champions South Africa.

Now Thomas is set to return to an arena where he says he fulfilled so many childhood dreams during his rugby union career - and says Hollywood legend Mickey Rourke will be there too.

Rourke is interested in playing Thomas in a film about the player's life.

After his success in union, Thomas switched codes in March 2010, joining the Wrexham-based rugby league side Crusaders.

The Crusaders and the 13 other Super League clubs will decamp to the Millennium Stadium for the opening round of fixtures on 12 and 13 February.

Magic Weekend will see seven matches played over two days with Thomas and the Crusaders facing Salford City Reds on the Sunday.

After two years at Murrayfield, the weekend of matches returns to Cardiff and Thomas believes there is no better place to hold such an event.

"Not only is it a great stadium it's also got a great atmosphere," said Thomas. "When your studs step onto the turf it's a special feeling.

Mickey Rourke
Hollywood actor Mickey Rourke is due in Cardiff with a screenwriter

"It almost promotes teams to go out on the field and give the stadium the respect that it deserves and that's a good game of rugby.

"For something like the Magic Weekend, Cardiff is the perfect place because it's probably the best rugby stadium in the world and in a great city.

"You bring the atmosphere from the city into the stadium because you don't lose it anywhere on the way.

Thomas is in the final year of his contract with Crusaders and he has admitted he is likely to retire at the end of the campaign.

"This is probably the last time I go back to the Millennium Stadium. I never thought I'd go back there again," he said.

"The probability is that at the end of the season I will be finished in professional rugby.

"I want to make the most of it. When I walk off the field I want to leave a good memory behind.

"I'm making the most of every day in training and every game I get to play.

"I want to make the most of it, and I'm glad I'm here with a great bunch of boys."

The Crusaders have endured a turbulent time off the pitch following their move to north Wales a year ago.

Following a period in administration in 2010, the club will begin the Super League season minus four points.

But Thomas believes that will inspire rather than hinder the Crusaders as they look to achieve a play-off spot for the second successive season.

"We are going to go into the season as underdogs because we are [on] minus four," said Thomas.

"Most people naturally like to be the underdog. When you are the underdog it brings out a bit of fight in you.

"This club and these players are all about fighting. Last year we fought and unexpectedly we got to the play-offs.

"This year, if we fight again, hopefully we can get to the play-offs again regardless of starting minus four.

"We want everybody in Wales, north, south, east or west, to realise that the Crusaders is a Welsh team and represents the whole of Wales.

"We're a good team and we're team who can do with the support."

It is now a team with Iestyn Harris as its head coach, after the former Great Britain stand-off succeeded Brian Noble last November.

Like Thomas, Harris is a also a dual-code international having won 25 caps for the union side during a spell with Cardiff.

"Iestyn's a good guy," said Thomas. "He's young, he's fresh, he's got some great new ideas, he's enthusiastic and puts himself across well.

"He actually joins in training, showing us and doing demonstrations of what we should be doing as a team.

"He was a talented player when he played and he hasn't lost too much of it.

"As a coach I think that he can really propel this team to greater things."

Thomas and the Crusaders are expecting the support of Oscar-nominated Mickey Rourke during the Magic Weekend.

"Mickey's going to come along with the writer and a couple of other people involved in the movie," added Thomas.

"It's good promotion for rugby that Mickey's decided that he wants to be there and not only sit through my game but sit through a few of the games.

"Mickey's a massive rugby fan and that's one of the main reasons why he wanted to do this film.

"He's always wanted to make a film about rugby but never really been able to find the subject matter."

Rourke became interested in Thomas's story following the Welshman's announcement in December 2009 that he was gay.

Since then the 36-year-old has been in demand with media outlets around the world to talk about his experiences.

In January he shared his life story with an American audience on the Ellen DeGeneres chat show.

"It's been an intense time but through it all I haven't lost myself," said Thomas.

"I'm meeting some amazing people and going to some amazing places.

"Life hasn't really been better for me. I really do feel blessed."

Gareth Thomas in action for the Crusaders
Thomas is in his second season with the Wrexham-based side



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see also
Crusaders season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Crusaders
Thomas extends Crusaders contract
24 Aug 10 |  Crusaders
Thomas makes switch to Crusaders
05 Mar 10 |  Crusaders
Rugby star in film script talks
10 Jan 11 |  Wales
New company takes over Crusaders
04 Jan 11 |  North East Wales
Crusaders go into administration
12 Nov 10 |  Wales
Harris in for Noble at Crusaders
08 Nov 10 |  Crusaders


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