Nick Tompkins’ impact off the bench for Saracens is such that he is fast becoming one of head coach Mark McCall’s go-to men.
The 22-year old former academy player inspired Saracens to a 36-34 victory over Ospreys on Saturday. His second half display was rewarded, with Tompkins being named man-of-the-match in round two of the Champions Cup.
Tompkins, who started the game on the bench, was brought on just before half time to replace Duncan Taylor.
His performance was reminiscent of Sarries’ 44-26 win against Scarlets at the same stage of last year’s competition. Tompkins was brought in at the last minute as a replacement for the injured Brad Barritt. Also named man-of-the-match that day, Tompkins scored a brilliant solo try and was at the heart of the Saracens attack at Allianz Park.
Nick Tompkins’ Impact
More recently though, Saturday was a show of true progression for the young centre. He is quickly becoming one of Saracens‘ most influential impact players.
One of his greatest strengths is adapting to the playing conditions – a pre-requisite for all replacements, but Tompkins has it in abundance. Liam Williams’ second half try perfectly personified that, especially with the centre having not been on the field for very long.
Tompkins acted as first receiver from scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth. Immediately he had identified the space straight ahead, but it is likely that a well drilled defence would quell an attack quickly from first receiver.
Rather than playing the ball, Tompkins’ clear intention was to break the line – knowing he had two attackers outside him. He reads the game very well – pulling in defenders creates the space outside.
Line Break, Creating Space
Surprisingly, Tompkins audaciously broke the defence of the number eight and the second row. The line break causes the outside defender to cover and make the tackle. Tompkins’ sublime offload to Williams means the space had already been created and the winger had the pace to dive over.
Tompkins’ game awareness and confidence on the ball are traits so often seen under the Saracens coaching set up. In the build up to Dan Evans’ yellow card for deliberately knocking the ball forward, Tompkins again used the time and space to draw in Evans. His attacking skills all too often sow seeds of doubt in defenders and had the pass found the awaiting Williams, a try in the corner would have almost certainly been scored.
The former England age-grade international is adept at taking his opportunities when they appear. His knack of performing well on the biggest club stage bodes well for his future; having signed a three year deal in 2016, he is undoubtedly one of Saracens’ future stars.
Nick Tompkins Calling the Shots
For Tompkins’ try however, Saracens’ play is nothing short of genius. The centre acted as second receiver but Ben Spencer had the option of the short ball to Jackson Wray.
Being so close to the line, the defence expected the short ball for the forwards to storm the try line, by which time, the defence had begun to narrow. Spencer passed to Schalk Burger who then passed to Tompkins making the call. Subsequently, it allowed him to run the arc around the defence into the space left outside and over the line.
Director of Rugby McCall had nothing but praise for Tompkins after the game.
“Nick did really well and we’re really pleased for him,” said McCall. “He’s showed the kind of big game temperament before, he played against the Scarlets this time last year and scored a great try and played against Toulon in the last pool game. It’s great that he can get that kind of experience.”
He added “He’s a young fella and he’s getting better and better over time. We hope to expose him to more and more in the upcoming weeks.”
Tompkins could be unleashed in the next round of Premiership fixtures. However the European champions will need to maintain a level of consistency and keep up their fight at the top of the league table. It will be a whole squad effort and Tompkins should undoubtedly play a part.
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