The Saracens man has been in inspired form for Warren Gatland's side who are aiming to top Pool C with one point needed against Georgia
Wales star Nick Tompkins is taking punishment on and off the field with a smile on his face. The Saracens centre has found his best form in a Wales shirt at this World Cup, helping Warren Gatland’s side become the first team to reach the quarter-finals.
Tompkins is not afraid to get smashed by taking the ball to the line to put others through gaps, as he did so brilliantly for captain Jac Morgan’s searing break that led to Gareth Davies’s opening try in the 40-6 rout of Australia.
Read more: Wales Rugby World Cup squad
Earlier in the week, Rio Dyer reflected upon Tompkins’s ability to fix a player, “making the defender whack him”, and the man himself is relishing being in the firing line.
“I’ve really enjoyed it (making those decisions at second and first receiver) because it tests you to have a feel for what they are doing and see how they are shaping up,” explained the 28-year-old.
“And making sure you are picking the right options and staying calm with it, (that you) don’t get too excited or don’t overthink it. It has been really enjoyable to have that role and responsibility.
“I’ve loved it, they love it, I get whacked, but they go through so I’m happy at the end of the day, hopefully it continues. It’s nice for me to have that role.”
But it transpires that Tompkins is also taking pelters from his own side after revealing he has accrued the most fines in the Wales squad. “I always get the wrong shirts, and don’t wear the right stuff. I think I’ve forgotten suit shoes before,” he added.
“I was late to one meeting and then I forgot my passport at one. I honestly pick these up like it’s nothing. I am known for the most; I think it is because I’m too laid-back or forgetful not just because the boys want to bully me.”
There is no shortage of ribbing in the Wales ranks with the team very comfortable together having been in camp for as long as five months. Tompkins joined a bit later after helping Saracens win the Premiership title but insists it feels very much like a successful club environment, something he is of course well accustomed to.
He added: “I couldn’t agree more with (forwards coach) Jonathan Humphreys when he said we are more like a club team. Being together (for five months) means you can have those little conversations on the pitch and make little tweaks.
“You are all looking for little things to tweak and improve. You start to know the boys better and you can push each other. There’s a lot of really good stuff going on. It has been really healthy, and it has been all of us pushing each other.
“We all like each other and that’s not easy to come by. The atmosphere is pretty fun as well. It’s not something that’s easy to emulate but it’s been enjoyable to be involved in. Whatever happens you get laughed at afterwards. Especially in this group, you get torn to pieces sometimes. The group is pretty brutal at times.”
Wales star Nick Tompkins on tackling and TMO bunker
Tompkins has been in the thick of the action and stood up very well to the physical challenge of facing the likes of Fiji’s Semi Radradra and Wallaby Samu Kerevi. But he knows that accuracy is paramount when it comes to tackling amid a spate of cards at this World Cup.
He said: “At the moment the tackle area is a real grey area. We’re all just trying to figure it out. It’s difficult because you’re making split-second decisions.”
There has been plenty said about the new TMO bunker system but Tompkins is a fan: “We are all going to make mistakes and to cut down the pressure we put on referees especially is good.”
While the bunker may have helped speed up the game by removing laborious on-field decision-making processes, it has not succeeded in making things any more clearcut with some yellows surprisingly upgraded and others who can count themselves lucky to have not seen red at the World Cup.
For example, Tompkins was not convinced by the red card shown to England flanker Tom Curry in the opening minutes of their win over Argentina but knows the emphasis now must be on honing technique.
He said: “It’s a bit reckless from him (Curry) but I don’t think that’s a red card. I don’t think I’ve seen one red card that has been really malicious.
“But if I hit someone with my shoulder we all know as players that it’s usually going to be a red card. You just can’t be reckless. You’ve got to be on the edge but you can’t go too far. For me it just screams the need to keep practising technique and tackling on the right side.”
Tompkins has dovetailed expertly with George North in Wales’ midfield in France, they now need just one point from a final Pool C fixture against Georgia in Nantes on Saturday to guarantee top spot and a quarter-final against either Argentina or Japan, thereby avoiding England.
However, it is a vagary of the Welsh system that has opened the door for Tompkins to wear No 12. Joe Hawkins started four out of the five Six Nations games but amid contractual chaos the 20-year-old signed for Exeter Chiefs where he is now combining with another man who was widely expected to be at this tournament in Henry Slade.
Hawkins has been left stranded on five caps, well short of the 25-cap minimum threshold (reduced from 60) for players playing out of Wales to still wear the feathers. Crucially, Tompkins has surpassed that number so his own career in England will have no bearing on an international trajectory that appears to be peaking at just the right time.