Nick Tompkins enjoying Welsh comforts away from troubled Saracens

Nick Tompkins has described life with Wales as “a nice distraction” following events at crisis club Saracens.

The Saracens centre will make a first Wales start in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations appointment with Ireland.

It follows a memorable try-scoring debut off the bench when Wales beat Italy 42-0 last weekend.

Tompkins scored a try on his Wales debut against Italy
Tompkins scored a try on his Wales debut against Italy

Reigning English and European title holders Saracens will be relegated to the second-tier Championship at the end of this season.

It follows salary cap breaches that saw them docked 35 league points – and then an additional 70 – plus a £5.36milion fine.

And asked on Thursday if his new Wales situation had proved a welcome relief, Tompkins said: “Yeah, it is.

“I still keep in touch with all the boys (at Saracens) and hear what the mood is like.

“It has been a nice distraction because it’s been pretty tough over there. I am here and focused on this.”

Tompkins, 24, played for England Under-20s and England Saxons but Wales boss Wayne Pivac was the national coach who came calling, knowing that his potential midfield newcomer was Welsh-qualified through his Wrexham-born grandmother.

“No. There wasn’t any contact from Eddie (England head coach Eddie Jones),” Tompkins added. “I just had contact with Wayne.

“He called me, and I was more than happy to meet him and get the opportunity. I couldn’t have accepted it quick enough.

For a young man, he’s a seasoned professional. He handles himself very well. He is very impressive

“I wasn’t expecting to play for Wales at international level, but then I don’t know if I was expecting to play international rugby at all. But when it came along, there was no chance of me saying no to it.”

Tompkins has even been in the Wales camp long enough to land a new nickname – albeit one that was handed to him in confused circumstances.

“At the moment, it’s Neil,” he said.

“Alun Wyn (Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones) got it wrong at the captain’s (Six Nations) launch when he spoke to Owen (Farrell).

Tompkins already has a nickname in the Wales camp
Tompkins already has a nickname in the Wales camp

“He said ‘Neil’s a good lad’. Owen got very confused and didn’t understand what he was talking about until it dawned on him that he got my name wrong. It’s sticking now, unfortunately.”

Tompkins will partner Hadleigh Parkes in midfield on Saturday, while George North – a centre starter against Italy – moves back to his familiar wing position, replacing Johnny McNicholl.

And Pivac said, of Tompkins: “It was a very good piece of business! But what the public saw on the field on the weekend, we’ve been seeing in training every day, and the way he conducts himself off the field.

“For a young man, he’s a seasoned professional. He handles himself very well. He is very impressive.”

Switches among the replacements see McNicholl being joined by prop Rhys Carre, who is available again after being banned following his sending off in Saracens’ Champions Cup victory over the Ospreys last month.

Scrum-half Gareth Davies and Gloucester back Owen Williams are also on the bench, together with Ospreys lock Adam Beard, who replaces an injured Cory Hill.

Wales head to Dublin on the back of a Welsh record-equalling eight successive Six Nations victories since losing to Ireland two years ago.

But they have not won a Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium since 2012, which underlines the challenge facing Pivac’s team.

Ireland v Wales games rarely disappoint!

🏉 Wales Grand Slam 2019

🏉 Ireland Grand Slam 2009

Who do you think will win in Dublin?

— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 6, 2020

“They (Ireland) are a very physical team, and if you let them get on the front foot they are very dangerous,” Pivac added.

“We’ve got to be careful with the areas in which we play and make sure we match that physicality that is going to be there.

“We know it’s not an easy place to go – the record speaks for itself there.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but we certainly have to front-up physically and make sure we play at the right end of the field.”