Nick Tompkins is preparing himself for a “surreal” experience when he takes the field for Wales in a Six Nations international at Twickenham on Saturday having once been an England Under-20 international.
Six years ago, the Saracens centre helped England’s juniors win an age-grade World Cup.
But he failed to make the step up to the senior side, despite playing alongside several England internationals at Premiership champions Saracens.
A maternal grandmother from Wrexham, however, allowed Tompkins to qualify for Wales.
Last month’s Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff saw Tompkins, born in Sidcup, southeast England, given a Wales debut by coach Wayne Pivac and on Saturday he will win his fourth cap against an England side featuring six of his Saracens team-mates — Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Tompkins’ England Under-20 captain, Elliot Daly, George Kruis, Jamie George and Ben Earl.
“Dad has to wear the red jersey or else he can’t come!” joked Tompkins.
“It does feel surreal (playing against England) and I suppose it’s not going to kick in until I am really there.”
– ‘Taking control’ –
Tompkins admitted it was tough watching his colleagues at north London club Saracens pile up the Test caps as he waited for recognition at senior international level.
“I would say that was one of the hardest things I had to go through,” he explained. “You see all these guys, they make it. The opportunities they’ve had, they’ve taken them.
“I was probably blaming other people, making up excuses for why I wasn’t doing what I (should have been) doing.”
Tompkins said his fortunes turned when he accepted more personal responsibility for his own career.
“I started taking control, doing it right…You have to be patient, and I realise looking back that everybody has got their own path.
“I wasn’t ready then. I am ready now, but I don’t know if I would have been ready if I had been thrust in (to international rugby) at 22 or 23.”
Tompkins, who made a try-scoring debut off the bench against Italy, said he had felt an added intensity in training ahead of Wales’ trip to Twickenham.
“Yeah. There’s a lot of hatred for the English! I’m a lover, not a fighter, but you can feel the anticipation, you feel a bit of edge, which is great.”
– ‘Mature’ Sinckler –
AFP / ANDY BUCHANAN Calmer character now – England prop Kyle Sinckler
Meanwhile England flanker George Kruis warned Wales against trying to wind up prop Kyle Sinckler as they did during last year’s encounter in Cardiff when the Welsh came from behind to win 21-13.
Wales got under the skin of the Harlequins front row who, after a superb first-half display that ended with England leading 10-3, conceded penalties in quick succession before being withdrawn by coach Eddie Jones on the hour mark.
“Kyle’s come a long way,” Lawes insisted. “He’s always been a pretty feisty character and he still is. He needs that — it’s part of him and what makes him such a great player.
“But he’s able to control it now. He knows where the line is and where he needs to be in terms of that line.”