Wales' Gavin Thomas relishes battle with Richie McCaw
NEW ZEALAND v WALES Venue: Carisbrook, Dunedin Date: Saturday, 19 June Kick-off: 0835 BST Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales MW & online, score updates online, live on Sky Sports 1
Wales flanker Gavin Thomas is relishing his chance to go toe-to-toe with legendary All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in Dunedin on Saturday.
Thomas has spent three years in the international wilderness and the Llanelli Scarlets terminated his contract at the end of last season.
But he has impressed since joining Newport Gwent Dragons after battling back from an Achilles injury.
"I'm looking forward to this game more than I have any others," Thomas said.
"I didn't think it would happen."
His long-standing Achilles troubles led to his departure from Parc y Scarlets but he has bravely fought his way back to fitness and form.
Now the 32-year-old has been handed a Test lifeline by Warren Gatland as Thomas now aims to play his way into the Welsh coach's 2011 World Cup plans.
The 32-year-old even revealed he considered quitting when he was controversially released by the Scarlets last year.
It's here and I need to do something about it. This is a performance I need to get right
Gavin Thomas on his Wales recall
But Thomas helped inspire Paul Turner's Dragons qualify for next season's Heineken Cup and he has now been rewarded with a Wales start - opposite probably the world's best number seven in the world's toughest country to tour.
New Zealand skipper McCaw will win his 82nd cap on Saturday while Thomas, whose international career has been a rollercoaster since making his debut against Japan in 2001, is set to win his 23rd appearance.
Thomas will enjoy a rare outing as regular openside flanker Martyn Williams, the British and Lions star, made himself unavailable while Andy Powell was ruled out with a thigh injury.
And as Sam Warburton broke his jaw in the recent 34-31 loss to South Africa, Thomas became the only specialist openside in the tour party and was all but guaranteed an international recall three years after playing his last Test against Australia in Brisbane.
Saturday's game represents a huge opportunity for the flanker to press his claims for future.
"It's here and I need to do something about it," said Thomas.
"This is a performance I need to get right.
"I'm a more rounded player now. I just practice harder now, to be honest. Then I took it for granted that I could do it and keep up. Now I want to impress myself on people, on the opposition."
The former Bath and Ospreys much-travelled back-rower credits the Dragons with helping him resurrect his international career.
Thomas insists the style of rugby the Rodney Parade region play had given him the "freedom" to play his game - which, according to his coach Paul Turner and Wales back-row team-mate Jonathan Thomas, had seen him become the form number seven in Wales.
He has also enjoyed getting to grips with rugby's new tackle laws.
"You can't go to the floor with people and hold on at the same time. You need to release and there's a bit more counter-rucking and those sorts of things and that seems to have helped me.
"But you can give more penalties away, that's for sure. You've got to be careful. I'm doing all right with it but we'll see on Saturday."
Thomas' recall was one of three changes Gatland made to the side that narrowly lost to the Springboks in Cardiff.
Alun Wyn Jones swaps places with Deiniol Jones in the second row, while Andrew Bishop replaces James Hook at centre.
On the bench, the uncapped Tavis Knoyle is preferred to Richie Rees as Mike Phillips' back-up, while Jonathan Davies takes the place of the promoted Bishop.
Thomas hopes Wales will not be overawed by the All Blacks, saying: "They are quality players and deserve to be respected but we are just men against men at the end of the day
"Obviously we need to have respect for them on Saturday but we need to pile into them and get stuck into them too."
Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Andrew Bishop (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Tom Prydie (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Gavin Thomas (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ryan Jones (capt). Replacements: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), John Yapp (Blues), Deiniol Jones (Blues), Rob McCusker (Scarlets), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets).
Wales tour squad:
Forwards: Bradley Davies, Deiniol Jones, John Yapp (all Cardiff Blues), Huw Bennett, Paul James, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Jonathan Thomas, Craig Mitchell (all Ospreys), Rob McCusker, Ken Owens, Matthew Rees, (all Scarlets), Gavin Thomas, (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Richie Rees, Jamie Roberts (all Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar, Andrew Bishop, Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips, Tom Prydie (all Ospreys), Jonathan Davies, Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle (all Scarlets), Will Harries (Newport Gwent Dragons).
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