Tiaan Thomas Wheeler

Tiaan aiming to be front and centre for the Ospreys

Since making his Ospreys debut as an 18-year-old four years ago, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler has had to negotiate a heavily congested midfield battle for a starting berth at the west Wales region.

Welsh internationals Owen Watkin, James Hook, Scott Williams and Cory Allen were in situ as the young centre was coming through the ranks while George North switching infield from his more familiar role on the wing hasn’t exactly made getting game time any easier.

So it is to his credit that he has kept plugging away and with nine appearances last season, he has now burst through the half century barrier in appearances for the region.

Toby Booth’s side pipped the Scarlets to the Welsh Shield’s Heineken Champions Cup qualifying spot last season, although they missed out on a place in the play-offs.

Thomas-Wheeler is among those who have set his sights higher for the season ahead.

“I think we finished last season really well to finish off as Welsh Shield champions, we probably showed we were the strongest region in Wales, but I think we were still a bit disappointed that we didn’t reach the play offs,” he said.

“We expect a lot more of ourselves to be pushing the top teams – not just winning something by finishing ninth or whatever it was so that’s going to be the goal this year and that is to go one better and get in the play-offs.


All you can do really is take the opportunities when you have them and personally, I was happy that I did that so hopefully more game time is still yet to come.”

Wales U20 captain Joe Hawkins and Osian Knott add to the 22-year-old’s challenge of getting more game time but he has enjoyed being a senior member of the cast as the new season rapidly approaches.

“Even at my young age I’ve had a bit of a leadership-type role and helping some of the younger boys – coming in it’s all new to them but still only being 22 myself it still feels like I’ve had a lot of experience,” he said.

“Osian is my age and Joe is two years younger so it’s that experience more than an age thing but like I said it’s only worked in my benefit but I’ve kind of felt like I had to grow up quick really playing at such a young age.

“We’ve had some tough seasons previously with the Ospreys so I had to grow up quick but it’s all in the bank, I think I’ve played 54 games now so at 22 I can’t complain.”

Thomas-Wheeler believes the Ospreys have improved under Booth’s stewardship and is looking forward to implementing a new style of rugby for the campaign ahead.

“This is Toby’s third year and I think you can see the improvement over the last couple years and this year now we start to bring in a different game plan again where the second receiver as we call it, will have a lot more influence on the game which is absolutely perfect for me. I’m all on board for that. Getting more ball in hand and more touches of the ball is a positive.”

Tiaan Thomas Wheeler
“All you can do really is take the opportunities when you have them and personally, I was happy that I did that so hopefully more game time is still yet to come.”

Thomas-Wheeler has enjoyed learning the ropes under the tutelage of Rhys Webb, Gareth Anscombe, Adam Beard, Alex Cuthbert, Dan Lydiate and co.

“Just being in the squad you’re going to learn off them and you’re going to see what they do so just having those boys around the squad is always a benefit,” he said.

Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan are two of the younger members of the squad who have caught the eye over the past two seasons. Neither are strangers to Thomas-Wheeler, as the trio were pivotal during Wales’ campaign in the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2019 where they played major roles in a shock upset of the Junior All Blacks – Thomas-Wheeler showing dribbling skills Lionel Messi would have been proud of when scoring the only try of the match.

The pathway has often been criticised for not producing players of the future, but the likes of Ryan Conbeer, Sam Costelow, Morgan Jones, Rio Dyer, Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Tommy Reffell are just a small selection of players who have gone on to carve out successful careers.

“A few of those boys involved have gone on to play for Wales and have had a lot of regional exposure and personally for me that is my next step – I want to play for Wales, I want to be on the international stage,” said Thomas-Wheeler.

So, what made the team of 2019 so successful?

I think we had a lot of boys at the older end of the U20s where a good few of us were playing regional rugby at the time. We seemed to have a lot of experience and knowledge in and around the camp,” explained Thomas-Wheeler.

“I think there was an element of boys you knew were going to push it and going to be leaders and because you have to bring the whole squad with you’re going to learn that knowledge and obviously there was that environment where we could while the coaches were brilliant.

Tiaan Thomas Wheeler

Thomas-Wheeler also paid tribute to head coach Gareth Williams, Richard Kelly, Andrew Bishop and Dai Flanagan along with Byron Hayward who joined the coaching group in Argentina.

“It also helped it was a strong group,” explained Thomas-Wheeler, before adding, “We knew that was a really talented squad. You’ll get years where there’s a lot of boys coming through and you get years where maybe not as much, but we knew that was a pretty special group by the time we got to Argentina – I think we all felt that.”

Wales had built a game plan around the midfield partnership of Aneurin Owen and Thomas-Wheeler but that had to be dramatically altered after the Dragons midfielder was knocked out after only 30 seconds in the opening game of the tournament against hosts Argentina.

“That was a tough one for us to take so early on the tournament,” said Thomas Wheeler who was one of the few players to play virtually every minute of every game in the championship.

“I think the only time off the pitch I had was when I had a yellow card against England – that’s what I had to do to get a rest, but you cannot complain about that – as a player you want to play every minute of every game,” said Thomas-Wheeler.

Due to the pandemic, 2019 was the last time there was a junior World Cup but Thomas-Wheeler is quick to encourage any future players to jump at the chance of playing at the top table.

“I think it’s awesome – it is such a good experience for young men to go away and experience different things in different countries – like us going to Argentina.

“You are never going to do that as a 20-year-old otherwise and being in that environment where it is so professional and it’s mirrored on the Wales senior team. You’re having that exposure before one day hopefully being in that squad and you know what to expect.

“The whole concept of playing boys from different countries the best at your age around the world they can really put your marker down and prove yourself, so I think it’s a great concept."

Thomas-Wheeler was hardly ever out of the eye-line of roommate Ryan Conbeer for the duration of the tournament and two built up a close friendship.

“We were joined at the hip; we just did everything together but as time goes on you just get busy and then you don’t talk as much but still to this day Ryan and me are good mates,” said Thomas-Wheeler.

“That’s the great thing about these tours – you bond with these boys when you make these friendships that you will always remember, and I think it was a good bond me and Ryan had."

And while the likes of Morgan, Lake and Reffell have gone on to play for Wayne Pivac’s Wales side, and despite having similar ambitions himself, his immediate goal is get more game time under Toby Booth.

“You obviously have long term goals, but I think it’s more important that I concentrate on what’s right in front of me and that is playing as much as I can for the Ospreys, getting as much game time as I can and really putting my marker down and showing what I can do.

“I don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface in showing what I can do with my game, so I think that’s more important for me at the moment.”

Tiaan Thomas Wheeler