Tongan Test debut caps Thompson's fantastic year
Whatever may come in 22-year-old Ross Thompson’s career, it’s probably a safe bet that the year 2021 will have seen the biggest trajectory in terms of his rugby journey.
A full professional debut with Glasgow Warriors in January led to a level of performance that meant inclusion in Scotland’s ultimately cancelled summer tour squad was academic, his international debut merely delayed by a number of months until the Autumn Nations Series.
For a man who, only five years ago, was plotting his team’s way around the BT Murrayfield pitch in the Scottish Schools Cup Final, last Saturday’s full cap appearance, whereby he landed two second-half conversions, marked the next stage in Thompson’s rise from talented youngster to top level operator.
“I was saying that to my parents recently, it’s funny the difference a year makes. This time last year, or 10 months ago, I was just training with Glasgow, not expecting to get a chance but hoping one might happen,” he explained.
“Playing at the tail-end of the last season was so much fun and I think as a team we picked up a decent run of form, and that made it really enjoyable. To be winning games and training with these guys is one thing but actually playing in a game with them makes such a big difference; they all helped me so much.
“It’s been pretty crazy but I don’t know, you still sometimes feel like the Academy player and when I’d seen that I’d played 20-odd games for Glasgow, it doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s gone by so quickly.
“And then to be called into the squad for the summer was great but of course disappointing in the end, so to be able to finally get a game after all that was exciting.”
In retrospect, the aforementioned 2016 Scottish Schools Cup Final, during which Thompson converted three Stewart’s Melville tries in a 36-32 win over Dollar Academy, served as a precursor to what was to come for the stand-off, whose poise from the tee has become a hallmark of his polished game.
At the same venue, he made his full Glasgow Warriors debut against Edinburgh in January, coming off the bench and converting a late Lewis Bean try in a 10-7 loss. A week later, at Scotstoun, Thompson enjoyed a memorable first professional start, crucially kicking 13 points in a 23-22 win over the same opponents, and he’s never looked back since.
A full-time contract with Warriors followed in February, with a strong of composed displays eventually leading to him being named both Young Player and Player of the Season in the club’s end-of-campaign awards list.
Such heady times don’t appear to affect the amiable Thompson, who gives plenty of appreciation to that Stewart’s Melville side and subsequent stints with Glasgow Hawks and then Ayrshire Bulls.
“The special thing about the Schools Cup is that you get the chance to play with your best mates from school who are still my best mates now,” he added. “We came through together for six years and it’s the pinnacle of schoolboy rugby, so to get the chance to win that was amazing.
“But yeah, if you’d said to me that in five years’ time from that, I’d have the opportunity to playing at BT Murrayfield for Scotland – and I made my debut there for Glasgow as well – it’s nice to have so many good memories of playing there already.
“I came to Glasgow Hawks straight out of school, I wasn’t doing any Academy stuff then, and my school coach Stuart Edwards got me in touch with Fin Gillies at Hawks and they had me down.
“That period under Fin and playing a lot with really experienced guys who had been part of the Scotland Club XV and also the likes of George Horne and Matt Fagerson were breaking through, to play with them straight out of school was a massive step up which definitely helped me.
“And then going on to play FOSROC Super6 with Ayrshire Bulls, bridging that gap between the Premiership and professional rugby, was another step up. I was only there for a short amount of time but I felt I learnt a lot.”
Having so many familiar faces around will aid most players’ ability to enjoy their surroundings, which is exactly how Ross feels about being part of the Scotland set-up, given he played through the age grades with so many of his contemporaries. The likes of Rory Darge, Rufus McLean and Jamie Dobie have all excelled at Scotsoun this season and earned international recognition on the back of it.
Thompson added: “We all seemed to be breaking through to the Glasgow team at the same time, so you can bounce off one another, help each other out and it makes it really enjoyable to have that connection of other guys going through the same thing.
“That’s what it felt like in that summer Test group, it was weird because there were so many of us that had come through playing with – it felt like an under-20s camp!”
When the dust settles on the history books being able to show Ross as a Scotland international, it will unsurprisingly be a proud moment for those around him – and for the player who so recently was part of a BT Murrayfield crowd cheering on his national team, as he explained: “I’ve been so lucky with support from my family and friends. They’ve been down to every ground in Scotland that I’ve played at since I was young so it’s nice to be able to play at the highest level for them, to show that all the hard work has paid off for now and hopefully in years to come.
“I was in the crowd for that France game back in March 2020 so to go from sitting watching Scotland to potentially playing in front of that crowd is something I wouldn’t have believed if you’d told me it would happen.”
2021, eh? The year that Ross Thompson broke through and then some.