It is the reason why Thompson always seems to play with a smile on his face. “I’ve come the long way round to get here,” he says, with no little understatement. Just a few years ago, he was playing for Hereford in the sixth tier of English rugby, having been talked out of quitting the game by a former schoolteacher. After spells at Richmond and Jersey, via a spot of sevens in Dubai, Thompson is now at the heart of Wasps’ blistering early season form.
Against Northampton last Saturday, the 29 year-old showcased both his defensive qualities as well as what Young terms his “X factor” in attack as he kept pace with Danny Cipriani to set up Jimmy Gopperth’s try. Having filled the place of the injured James Haskell at Wasps, Thompson has done as much as any back row in the first four rounds of the Premiership to suggest he can do likewise at international level, particularly in light of Jack Clifford’s ankle surgery as Eddie Jones prepares to name his squad for the autumn internationals.
“Are there many better ball carriers at the moment? I don’t think there are,” Young said. “He has shown what he can do with ball in hand, but you don’t quite know what Eddie is looking for. I have not seen many back-rowers at this moment in time who have done what he has done in the last four games. If you are going to look at those four games then he is certainly going to be in there with a shout.”
Thompson himself plays down the talk of an international call-up as if it were too fantastical a prospect to contemplate. There have already been so many Sliding Doors style moments in Thompson’s route back to the Premiership having first become disillusioned with life in Gloucester’s academy. “It is hard to explain, but it got to the point where the enjoyment wasn’t there,” Thompson said.
After a period out of the game in which he combined working with travelling, there came a phone call from a former teacher asking him to come along to Hereford who compete in Midlands 1 West. Even though there was nothing on offer beyond the occasional couple of beer tokens, Thompson was in his element.
“I absolutely loved playing in the terrible pitches and training on Tuesday and Thursday night in the mud and cold,” Thompson said. “To go from those facilities to these, it’s incredible. Being released from an academy is not always the worst thing that can happen. It can make you reevaluate and make you work a bit harder. For me, personally, it was getting out and playing rugby every week and learning my trade that way.”
Another important part of his development was his sojourn into sevens, which is still evident in his supporting lines and link play. Witness his startling try against Toulon last season. It was while playing for the Templars team in Dubai that another break arrived. A teammate offered him a job at an IT recruitment firm in London. Upon arriving in the capital, another friend put him in touch with Richmond, then in National Two South, which is where the fire was lit.
“When I started playing for Richmond I fell in love with rugby all over again,” Thompson said. “That was the moment I fell back in love with it I wanted to see how far I could go with it.”
Eventually Thompson’s ambition outweighed Richmond’s and he moved to Jersey with whom he won promotion to the Championship. His try-scoring prowess put him on several clubs’ radar but it was Wasps who acted first to sign him in 2013. “The big thing is that Guy has always had that X factor,” Young said. “It was putting the other parts to his game – the work rate, the defensive ability – to go with the power and pace.”
Thompson required a lot of conditioning work to bring him up to the speed of the Premiership. Speed of thought was imparted by George Smith, the Australian grand master of the turnover, last season in countless drills with a tackle bag. “We did a lot on the mental side so spotting threats and identifying when to jackal, when to counter ruck and whether it was worth going in at all.”
Even though he clearly belongs on the big stage, Thompson still possesses a wide-eyed amazement at how quickly his surroundings have changed.
“From a personal point of view it has made me appreciate it a hell of a lot more,” he said. “I work two to three times as hard as I ever thought I would. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be playing Premiership rugby in such a fantastic squad like Wasps.
“But I still feel like the same person and still play the same way I want to play. I have always wanted to play fast rugby, get outside and run with the ball. I don’t think anything has changed me apart from the people around me are a bit better than they were at Hereford on a Tuesday night.”
England’s No 7 options
Guy Thompson, 29, Wasps
Started the season in outstanding form whether at No 8 or openside. A destructive carrier who is a huge threat in wide channels.
Mike Williams, 24, Leicester Tigers
Highly rated by Jones and almost certain to be included in the squad for the autumn internationals, but is not a natural openside.
Teimana Harrison, 24, Northampton Saints
The next cab on the rank having toured Australia but lasted just 31 minutes on his international debut before he was replaced.
Will Evans, 19, Leicester Tigers
A prodigious talent who was one of the stars of the England’s Under-20 World Championship victory. Yet to start for Leicester this season.
Jackson Wray, 25, Saracens
Another who is more comfortable at blindside, Wray still offers a ferocious workrate and is solid over the ball.