Talented young flanker steps up

Otago Spirit loose forward Bree Thomas has a chuckle during a practice session earlier this week....
Otago Spirit loose forward Bree Thomas has a chuckle during a practice session earlier this week. PHOTO GREGOR RICHARDSON
Otago Spirit rookie Bree Thomas is excited but nervous heading into the semifinal against Tasman in Dunedin this afternoon.

The blindside flanker can feel confident as well. Otago dispatched Tasman 58-15 earlier in the season and is a warm favourite to emerge victorious.

A win will secure a home venue for the final.

Thomas is from good rugby-playing stock. Her brother Flynn Thomas is the co-captain of the Southland Stags, while Jed Thomas was a useful player through school.

"I suppose I've always looked up to my brothers because they were always the ones I was trying to be like when I was little," Thomas said.

"But now that I've got to a higher level of rugby maybe it's Sarah Goss.

"But they were always playing when I was little, so it was just easy for me to go along and play. Dad coached our junior teams and I just kind of slotted in."

The 18-year-old went to Southland Girls' High School, but moved north to Dunedin this year to attend university.

She joined the University club and helped the team claim the club title. Thomas scored a try in the final and proved her worth out wide. She is a good ball carrier, with an eye for space, and certainly caught the attention of Spirit coach Scott Manson. And when star flanker Georgia Mason (knee) was ruled out for the season, Thomas went from potential role-player to starter.

"Her biggest asset is her skill set," Manson said.

"She is quite talented for a forward and she works really well with Trisha Hopcroft in the wide channels.

"She has an ability to off-load and pick up quite difficult passes. And when she gets in space, most of the time she will run the right line and is able to manipulate a defender and put the next person into the hole."

Thomas is focused on doing as much as she can to help the Spirit get through the next two games unbeaten. She knows when Mason returns next year, the competition for starting spots will increase.

But she is lapping up every opportunity she gets.

"I was not expecting to get as much game time as I'm getting, so anything that I do get is appreciated. I'm learning things from the other girls about the style of play.

"Transitioning from schoolgirl rugby to the Farah Palmer Cup has been a huge step up."

A step up she has taken in her stride so far.

Otago v Tasman

Forsyth Barr Stadium, today, 2pm

Otago: Sheree Hume, Trisha Hopcroft, Amy Du Plessis, Teilag Ferguson, Kiana Wereta, Rosie Kelly, Rosie Buchanan-Brown, Greer Muir, Morgan Henderson, Bree Thomas, Julia Gorinski, Kate Smith, Eilis Doyle, Tegan Hollows, Isla Pringle. Reserves: Gemma Millar, Claudia Hobbs, Paige Church, Jess Kendall, Hannah Stolba, Hinemoa Watene, Cheyenne Cunningham. 

Tasman: Bethan Manners, Rebecca Kersten, Demi Salton, Jess Drummond, Sydnee Wilkins, Hayley Hutana, Jamie Paenga, Jess Foster-Lawrence (captain), Leah Miles, Tamara Silcock, Courtney Clarke, Hannah Gillespie, Gabi Dixson, Stephani Mitchell, Anna Bradley. Reserves: Louise Nalder, Paris Hart, Jaunita Thomson, Jordan Foster, Hannah Beech, Jess Harvie, Anya Schultz.

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