Gareth Thomas has tipped childhood best friends Tommy Reffell and Sam Costelow to shine for Wales at this year's Rugby World Cup and claimed they could form a "crucial" part of Warren Gatland's side in years to come.
The former Wales captain has been impressed with the form of both of the Pencoed RFC youth products and has backed Scarlets fly-half Costelow, who has two caps for his country after making his debut last autumn, to force his way into Gatland's final squad ahead of the tournament in September.
Reffell, meanwhile, has a golden opportunity to make his mark in the Wales backrow this autumn following the retirements of Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, although he could face competition from Jac Morgan to start at openside in France.
But Thomas has no doubt about the importance of the role the 24-year-old should play in Wales' immediate and distant future, describing him as a "crucial" player having shone for Leicester Tigers this season.
"A really great prospect for me is Tommy Reffell," said the former Bridgend, Cardiff and Toulouse star. "He's a Pencoed boy and I've watched him play for Leicester over the last five years or so. Leicester are a very strong team and they've got some good international back rowers who he is keeping out of the side.
"He plays really well consistently for them and so I think he's somebody who, when he gets a consistent run of games and they start playing a game that suits his style of play, he could become a very crucial part of the future of Welsh rugby".
Gatland is expected to start either Reffell or Morgan in Wales' first World Cup pool game against Fiji on September 10, although which one he will go for remains unclear. There is a chance he could pick them both in the same back-row as he did against Scotland during this year's Six Nations, which saw Reffell starting at openside and Morgan at number eight.
22-year-old Costelow's place in the final World Cup squad is far less assured, with Dan Biggar the favourite to start at 10. Meanwhile, Owen Williams, who replaced Biggar against England and Italy during the Six Nations, is also a contender for the starting jersey while Gareth Anscombe has returned from injury and could be preferred to both men by Gatland.
However, all three are now in their thirties, with Harlequins' Jarrod Evans now ineligible, the clubless Rhys Patchell dogged by injuries and forgotten man Callum Sheedy trapped in the international wilderness. Even if Costelow doesn't feature in France this year, then, he seems the likeliest heir to Biggar's throne in years to come.
But Thomas is still holding out hope that Gatland will take a punt on the young man ahead of the World Cup, having been impressed with his breakthrough performances for Wales U20s
"A real outside bet for me is Sam Costelow," he said. "I think he is another really exciting prospect. He's come through the Under 20s and played really well for them, again was at Leicester for a bit and now of course is at the Scarlets. He's got a great defensive game for a 10, he's not afraid to put his body on the line and hits when he needs to hit.
"I suppose we're coming to the end of Biggar's reign in the 10 jersey and it will be interesting to see if Warren Gatland gives an opportunity to an inexperienced kid of a huge platform, to give him that tournament experience."
Thomas added: "For me, Tommy and Sam are two players that are there or thereabouts at the moment. But the team is evolving and a good World Cup could see Gatland and Wales build around that kind of player."
Having come through the same club system, Costelow and Reffell achieved a dream of playing for Wales together against the All Blacks in November, with the pair lining up next to each other before kick-off.
"[We're] both from Pencoed, both proud to be from there as well," Costelow told reporters ahead of the game. "We've come through the mini and juniors, not together as he's two years older than me, but nonetheless it's a big part of who we are.
"There's a lot of experienced and great players who have come from the club. Hopefully I can follow in their footsteps."
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv