SAM THOMSON says he jumped at the opportunity to return to Scotland for a second stab at making it as a pro player in his homeland just over three months ago, despite the fact that he was just a few months short of completing his three-year residency requirement to become Australian-qualified and the prospect of getting involved with Super Rugby was almost within grabbing distance.
The Edinburgh-born and Glasgow-raised second-row had headed Down Under after a fractured shoulder had cut his first spell in the Scottish pro game with Glasgow Warriors short midway through the 2016-17 season.
Despite the howling wind and icy rain rattling the roof of the indoor pitch at Oriam as he spoke to the press on Tuesday afternoon, the 25-year-old says he has no regrets about his decision to give up the sun and surf on the northern beaches of Sydney when Richard Cockerill called with an offer back in early September.
“I’ve kind of been all over since I finished university in Worcester [in 2014],” says the former Kelvinside Academy schoolboy. “I spent six months in New Zealand, then went to the south of France for a year with Perpignan, and then got the chance to come back to Glasgow [on a one-year academy contract], where I played one game then injured my shoulder.
“I made the decision to get an early release and went out to Australia to play Shute Shield with Warringah Rats. I never intended to stay that long, but I ended up loving it and we won the comp that year. I’d just finished my third season playing with them and there was an opportunity to come back here. It came out of nowhere and I jumped at it.
“An agent got in touch with me and mentioned that Edinburgh were interested. I hadn’t really seen coming back as an option because I figured I was out of the picture, but within a couple of days I spoke to Cockers. He explained he wanted me back over and there was an opportunity there. Within a few more days I sorted it and a week later I was back and straight into things.”
A man in demand
It wasn’t quite as straight-forward a decision as Thomson makes it sound given that there was a fair bit of interest coming his way in Australia. He had trained with the Brumbies Super Rugby franchise the previous off-season and was at the time of Cockerill’s call in discussion with the Waratahs about the possibility of signing a deal with them.
He did let those teams know what was happening but they said they couldn’t make a decision until the conclusion of the Australian Rugby Championship season [the country’s regional competition which acts as a proving ground for players aspiring to a Super Rugby deal] at the end of October.
“That’s when I knew I had to take this opportunity while it was there,” explains Thomson. “I wanted to stay out there. That was my whole life, but when this came up it was an opportunity to move closer to home and it was something that I knew I’d regret if I said ‘no’. I’ve got a year’s contract to prove I can do it and see what happens.
“I have no regrets at all so far. This weekend [against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in the Challenge Cup] will be my sixth game out of ten and considering it’s my first year I’m really happy with that. Ideally, I want even more game time. At the end of the day, it’s how you perform on the pitch that gets you picked next week. For me, it’s a case of consistency, growing my knowledge and making sure I nail my role, and then showing what I can do to express myself.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a lifestyle change,” he adds, with a glance towards the rain-battered window. “I’m working on getting used to it, but my focus has been purely on the pitch, so I’ve got to find that balance, especially if it’s going to be longer term.
“I’d be finishing training [in Australia] and go to the beach for a swim or a coffee. If it rained the pitch would be closed and we’d train indoors. I’ve said to some of the boys I hadn’t played in the rain for ages and every game I’ve played since I got back there’s been a downpour. It’s a different sort of way of playing, you have to be a lot more switched on in terms of you can’t try those 50-50s. It’s almost as if your skill level has to change.
“In terms of getting back into a full-time environment it’s been awesome,” he concludes. “I’ve seen so many gains in the gym and in my game. It’s just about making sure I’m up to speed and able to play consistently whenever I get the opportunity.”