Wales head coach Warren Gatland has promised seven-times capped England prop Henry Thomas will “bring something different” to their preliminary World Cup training squad.
Montpellier tighthead Thomas, who has played for Sale and Bath in the Gallagher Premiership, was capped by England between 2013 and 2014 and has served World Rugby’s stand down period of three years to represent another country.
Thomas, 31, was the major selection surprise in Gatland’s 54-man training squad, which will be cut to 33 for the World Cup in France this September.
“He was involved last year with Montpellier winning the league and we think his experience will bring something different,” Gatland said of the Kingston upon Thames-born Thomas, who qualifies through his Welsh father.
“Jonathan Humphries (forwards coach) reached out and had a conversation with him about being potentially available.
“He was at Sale a number of years ago, they saw him as the big thing and had a lot of time at Bath before moving onto Montpellier.
“You’ve got to bring a physical element and be strong at the set-piece. He has also got some good ball-carrying ability and is pretty mobile getting around the park.
“We think he will give us some competition in the front row. He’s been around, so he will hopefully come in and make an impression.”
Jones was omitted from the World Cup less than two years after playing for the Lions in South Africa, while the five-times capped Hawkins has fallen foul of the Welsh Rugby Union’s 25-cap policy following his move to Devon.
Players who play outside Wales must have 25 caps to represent their country, the number having been reduced from 60 in February.
Thomas is not caught under the rule as he has yet to play for Wales, but he would have to return to play in the country after his current Montpellier deal expires should he be capped in the meantime.
On Hawkins’ exclusion, Gatland said: “He’s made his decision to go to Exeter and I’ve spoken to him two or three times.
“We told him he was a big part of our future and definitely in the 23, either in the midfield or at 10.
“We are disappointed that he’s made that decision. He feels at the moment that going to play club rugby in England will be good for his development.
“He felt that he was potentially undervalued a little bit. He’s been offered a pretty significant deal and he’s made that decision to move on.
“I’ve got to respect that decision but, from a coaching perspective, we’re disappointed to lose someone of his potential and his talent at least for the next few years.”
Dragons forward Will Rowlands, who has agreed to join French club Racing 92 next season, has been included despite having only 23 caps to his name.
Rowlands’ registration will remain in Wales during the summer and Gatland’s side have three World Cup warm-up games in August that could take him to the threshold required.
“The PRB (Professional Rugby Board) have said that Will Rowlands is eligible,” Gatland said.
“He’s still with the Dragons until the end of the year. He might get a couple more games which would make him eligible from the point of the 25-cap rule.”
Veterans include Alun Wyn Jones – who is set to play at his fifth World Cup – Taulupe Faletau, George North and Leigh Halfpenny, who has 99 caps and was released by the Scarlets at the end of the season.
Hooker Ken Owens led Wales in this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship, but Gatland has not named a World Cup captain at this stage.