Nicky Thomas aiming to follow in footsteps of his boyhood idol
IT has become the Holy Grail of Welsh rugby — the quest for a successor to Adam Jones's tight-head crown.
The popular prop from Abercrave has become the platform on which four Six Nations titles have been built, not to mention this summer's Lions triumph in Australia.
But when the Ospreys' scrum king has been absent, Jones's boots have been tough to fill.
Among those who have tried include Rhys Thomas, Ben Broster, John Yapp, Craig Mitchell, Aaron Jarvis and an out-of-position Paul James, while more recently Scott Andrews has worn the No. 3 jersey, while Scarlet Rhodri Jones is in the midst of an attempted conversion across the front row.
As yet, a convincing long-term solution has yet to be found.
But hope, it appears, is on the horizon.
In this summer's Junior World Championships in France, Swansea product Nicky Thomas — who turned 19 this week — underlined the potential many at the Ospreys have enthused about.
And this, just a year after Scarlet Samson Lee delivered some eye-catching set-piece performances for Danny Wilson's men in South Africa.
Jones will be 34 by the time the next World Cup tournament arrives on these shores, so the progress of both Thomas and Lee will no doubt be closely examined by the Welsh management in the coming 18 months.
However, with Jones, Jarvis and Joe Rees currently in his path at the Liberty, Thomas knows he has plenty to learn, hopefully off the great man himself.
"Adam Jones was my idol growing up and I was a bit star struck when I came here," said Thomas, who stands at 6ft 3in and 18 stone 10lbs.
"But he has been very helpful and very down to earth.
"I don't feel that there is any extra pressure on me as a tight-head prop because I am only 19 and I will just try to develop."
Thomas made three appearances for the region last season and is again likely to spend the majority of the campaign under the guidance of another Welsh Grand Slam winner, Mefin Davies, at Swansea RFC.
"The Ospreys academy have been excellent in my development and it is great learning off experienced front-rowers like Mefin Davies and Andrew Millward," he added.
"Mefin's experience is invaluable.
"I know I have huge steps to take and I just have to knuckle down.
"It was a great summer with the under-20s in France and I really enjoyed playing in a World Cup final.
"Our target was a semi-final and we exceeded that.
"Playing for the first team is something I would hope for this season, but it is not something I would expect.
"I would like to make at least some LV= Cup appearances, but there so many tight-heads here.
"This season is all about development and I also have another year with the under-20s, which I'm looking forward to."