Triple Crown-chasing England have been warned that Nick Tompkins, the one they let get away, poses a “massive threat” to their ambitions on Saturday.
Tompkins was born in a London suburb, plays his club rugby with Owen Farrell, won a Junior World Cup alongside Maro Itoje and was capped twice by England’s Saxons second team.
But the call never came from Eddie Jones and at Twickenham this weekend, when Tompkins pulls on a Wales jersey courtesy of his Wrexham-born gran, England might just live to regret it.
“Through the grapevine I hear the feedback he got from England was that he wasn’t big enough to play international rugby,” Saracens coach Alex Sanderson said.
“And you do look at Nick – 6ft and 14 and a half stone – and wonder ‘how’s he going to defend a Tuilagi’, don’t you?
“Yet every time he’s gets the ball in his hand he surprises the opposition because he carries and tackles like someone who’s two stone heavier.
“Technique, willpower, whatever it is, he has an ability in contact to punch above his weight. And that makes him a massive threat.”
Turn the clock back four years to when Saracens won the Premiership and European Cup double for the first time, and not too many people were saying that.
At the end-of-season drink-up the players were in high spirits save for Tompkins, a picture of frustration sat in the corner with Sanderson.
“He wasn’t getting a look in and was almost crying,” recalled Sarries’ forwards and defence coach. “The rest were having a good laugh and he was just a bit lost.
“He said to me ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do’. I told him to stay positive and to come back for pre-season and give it a proper crack.”
The fact Tompkins had racked up a century of appearances by the time he finally wrote his name up in lights, with a try hat-trick in last season’s Premiership semi-final, shows how much effort it has taken.
England centre Alex Lozowski said: “For sure he has had to be patient but he’s now reaping the reward. People are seeing what we have known for years.
“That he’s got everything a centre needs to thrive at the highest level. His physicality is unbelievable. He’s powerful and explosive, a nightmare to defend against.”
Tompkins, who marked his Wales debut with a try against Italy, will line-up in the backfield opposite clubmates Farrell and Elliot Daly.
And with Itoje, Jamie George, George Kruis and Mako Vunipola also on the pitch England can’t say they don’t know what’s coming.
“Nick is someone you’d want in your trench every time,” cautioned Sanderson. “For his fight, his tenacity, his aggression.
“I’m English and obviously I want England to win, but I want Nick to rip it up and I hope at the end England are scratching their heads, thinking ‘how did we let this one go’? I really do.”