FEATURE INTERVIEW | Nick Tompkins
He may have enjoyed his season-long sojourn to the land of his grandmother, but Nick Tompkins is more than happy to be back at the place he is proud to call home, the StoneX Stadium.
A long-term Saracens project, the 26-year-old has come all the way through the ranks to become an established first-team player . . . just like he always wanted to! It took him a while, but the wait was worth it and he intends to make the most of his chance to shine for the Men in Black.
When Saracens were forced to drop into the Championship Tompkins was one of the players who went out on loan for the season. Having been picked for the Wales Six Nations squad in January 2020, he made his international debut as a first-half injury replacement in the 42–0 home win over Italy.
An England U20 World Cup winner, he was happy to use his Wrexham-born grandmother to earn him the chance to play for Wales and he is now the proud owner of 16 caps. He ended the November tests on a high with a try in the win over Australia and can claim a share in the 2021 Six nations win after playing in the first two fixtures.
While the Men in Black were securing a quickfire return to the Gallagher Premiership, Tompkins was enjoying his loan period at the Dragons and broadening his experience in what is now the United Rugby Championship. Good memories, great experience, but nothing beats being back at the heart of the Saracens wolfpack.
“I loved living in Cardiff Bay and it was a wonderful experience being able to immerse myself in the Welsh rugby culture for a year. I got to know the people and the places and I hope they got to know more about me,” said Tompkins.
“But being able to come back to Saracens playing in the Premiership was unbelievably exciting. It was like going back to a time in your childhood,” said Tompkins.
“I had been at the club for almost nine years before I headed to the Dragons and I felt like the new kid on the block when I returned. I felt I had to prove myself all over again.
“There were a lot of familiar faces, especially among the coaching staff, but there were also a number of new guys. I initially felt like one of them.
“But while it took a while to learn about the cultures and tactics of a new team when I first got to the Dragons, there were no problems fitting right back in at Saracens. It was as though I’d never really been away from the club in many ways.
“Having never been out to another club before it was an experience that made me realise how fortunate I had been to spend such a long time at Saracens. I came back with renewed enthusiasm.”
And since his return he has become a mainstay in the midfield, staring nine of the 10 Gallagher Premiership games he has played and averaging 74 minutes per match. Add in a try against Worcester, another try assist and 94 tackles and it is easy to see that he is making his presence felt.
It may have taken him longer than anyone thought it would for him to become a first-team regular, but then you have to factor in the presence and longevity of players like Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Marcelo Bosch and Alex Lozowski.
He managed to pick up a Premiership winners medal at Twickenham in 2019, coming on as a second half replacement, and was an unused replacement in the Heineken Champions Cup Final that same season. Now he wants to help the club win more trophies and re-establish themselves at the top of the European game.
“When relegation was forced upon us we had to look ourselves in the eye, be hard and say that things aren’t going to be the same again after what happened. Our collective goals and dreams haven’t changed, but we needed to discover what is going to make us tick moving forward,” he added.
“We are being honest with each other and we are finding out who we now are. The aim is to reach the same heights as before and seeing so many players re-sign for the club has been huge.
“Seeing Mako and Billy Vunipola stick with us, along with Alex Lozowski, Alex Lewington, Andy Christie and Alec Clarey, has been huge. That is indicative of where we are and what we are looking to achieve.
“We are second in the Premiership and fighting as hard as we can on all fronts.”
If he gets the call, as he most likely will, from Wayne Pivac to join the Welsh Six Nations squad, then Tompkins hopes to get the chance to face some of his Sarries team mates at Twickenham as the men in red seek to defend their title.
Having got a taste of the international scene he is hungry for more and the lure of possibly playing at the 2023 World Cup is very much in his mind. Having topped the world with the England U20 team in 2014, when they beat South Africa 21-20 in Auckland, he’d love to complete the set in France.
That England side was captained by Maro Itoje and also boasted Wales, British & Irish Lions and Dragons back row man Ross Moriarty. International rugby can get a bit confusing!
“With the World Cup not far away it is important that I establish myself in the Saracens side and play well enough to stay there week in, week out. Playing well for my club is going to be the key to any success I might enjoy at international level,” said Tompkins.
“The Six Nations is going to be really exciting if I get the call. I can’t wait to see where Wales will be when they go in to defend their title.
“I came pretty late to international rugby. That was because it took me so long to break into the Saracens side.
“I guess I am a good example of someone who got there in the end through perseverance. I had to earn my spurs and I learned so much from being in the Saracens environment.
“If I had been thrown in much earlier maybe I wouldn’t have been ready for international rugby. I might have missed my opportunity.
“Now I’ve got a shot at a World Cup and it is something I really would love to be a part of. It would be something I could look back on for the rest of my life.”