It has been a season like no other for Nick Tompkins.
The 26-year-old centre was part of the title-winning 2021 Six Nations squad while on loan at Dragons before heading back to Saracens in April to help them secure the English Championship title and promotion back to the Gallagher Premiership.
The international silverware win in March capped off a busy 12 months after his whirlwind Wales call-up a year earlier in Wayne Pivac’s debut competitive squad which nobody saw coming.
But it’s not all been plain sailing; there were Covid bubbles to embed into, regrets about his Dragons stint, he suffered a shoulder injury to battle back from during the autumn, and has faced stiff competition in centre from the likes of Jonathan Davies and Willis Halaholo to name a few.
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However, he’s now vying for a third consecutive Wales appearance on Saturday in the second of two Tests against Argentina – looking to finish off an unusually long season on a high.
“It was tough,” he reflects of this season.
“With being away at the Dragons and having to be in a bubble, I found it really tough personally. I didn’t cope with it very well and I think I needed a bit of an adjustment period.
“There are things I wish, I’d played better maybe for Dragons, definitely coming back after Covid and playing for Wales, I think it was a bit of a stumbling block.
“In the autumn I had some family troubles and then in the Six Nations I had some family issues again and other stuff. My grandad was pretty ill with cancer and he passed away.
“But towards the end of the Six Nations, I was really, really happy with my fitness and how I felt. Obviously I had an injury to my shoulder which was another setback.”
Playing for two clubs and trying to settle into different environments probably hasn’t aided his on-field performances, though.
“That was tough. You’re trying to buy into a culture, and get to know the [Dragons] boys – it was limited because I was with the Wales team so I was coming in and out of that as well, trying to help them do as much as they can and learn what they’re about.
“It was pretty quick and sudden for me to go back to Sarries and then try and help them win a Championship and get back into the Prem. It’s been emotionally draining. It’s been fun, but it’s been pretty tough.”
A return to Saracens – a club he has been with for almost 10 years – in April has been the welcome home Tompkins may have needed.
“Maybe it was a case of feeling more at home or seeing some familiar faces. It makes a difference,” he said. “In the Championship, playing with Sarries, playing with the Lions boys, I think I’ve gone back to the level where I think I’m at and playing the best rugby I’ve been.
“I’ve really enjoyed the last two Welsh games when I’ve got on and the camp has been good. It’s been tough, really rough, and there have been moments where you question your ability and things, but it’s been a good learning curve.”
It’s almost been 18 months since Pivac brought Tompkins into the Wales fold, qualifying to represent the men in red thanks to his Wrexham-born grandmother, and it’s a time he looks back on fondly.
“Everything was so new, there was a crowd – thank God – and I remember the Italy game as one of the best memories of my life,” he added.
“It just solidified what a good decision I’d made. I should have made it sooner if I’d had the chance. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it was brilliant. I look at it with such fondness.”
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But he’s hoping that settling at club rugby will allow fans to see a better version of himself in the coming years.
“It’s one of those things that happens in life and it’s peaks and troughs. You’ve just got to manage that and keep level-headed. I’m giving my all and training as hard as I can, and being the best person I can be.
“Outcomes of games, you can be wonderful, you can be bad – it’s not, it’s how long you train and stick with it and that’s the important thing.”
Tompkins could earn a starting place on Saturday, with doubts surrounding the fitness of Jonathan Davies and Halaholo after respective knocks last weekend.
Despite the obvious down sides to such stiff competition in midfield – with Ben Thomas and Owen Lane also able to cover centre, plus Owen Watkin – Tompkins sees it only as a positive.
“In terms of having these players around, you’re always going to have challenges and competition and you need it, really, because otherwise you go a bit stale.
“I found that out at times at the Dragons, maybe I could have pushed myself harder in training and I didn’t.
“Then I went back to Saracens, and you’ve got Lions all around you, pushing you and you see the difference.
“The difference in terms of my performances is night and day. You need that push and competition and I love it.”
As for his point of difference, he said: “I think I can bring a bit of work rate and energy in terms of touches on the ball, and try and bring my ball carrying into the equation. With my footwork, I think I can really add something to this team whether it’s off the bench or starting.
“It’s been 18 months now of getting to know this group and the system. Believe it or not, it’s pretty difficult to just come into a team and know everything and the roles. Once you get immersed in that, you can settle yourself down and push a bit more.”
Tompkins is now hoping to round off an eventful season by completing a series win over Argentina on Saturday.
Tompkins said: “I’d take it (the series win). I’d be happy with that. Especially with what’s going on with Covid and stuff – any bright spark is nice.
“We came off really frustrated after last week’s draw, everyone did across the board. It’s obvious, you look at it and you think with 14 men you should be dominating and there should be holes and opportunities.
“We look back at that and we think we squandered a lot of good opportunities. We’ve looked at that pretty heavily over the last couple of days and have picked out what we need to work better at.
“They are a good side, and have got a full strength team so you have to remember that, but we came off frustrated. It’s building now for this last game, there’s a lot more we want to give. Thank God we’ve got one more game.”
And Tompkins knows how Wales can improve matters, adding: “We need to up our kicking game from what it was, put pressure on them and defusing any pressure they’re going to bring. They got to our wingers quite a lot off kicks and I think we need to improve on that.
“In terms of attack, there are areas we need to exploit better with their defence. We all need to step up.
“We need to go in with a bit of a ruthless mindset and really step it up.
“I’m excited to play the game and then maybe take a bit of a holiday. It’s been a long old season, bit of a weird one as well.”