They may have been pals and teammates while starring for England, but Ross Moriarty admitted being shocked as anybody at discovering fellow Under-20 World Championship winner Nick Tompkins could play for Wales.
“I was very surprised when he was called to the squad because I didn’t know that he was Welsh ... I don’t even think he’d been to Cardiff before!” quipped Moriarty.
Saracens centre star Tompkins was called up for the Six Nations and made a huge impact during two stints off the bench in the 42-0 Six Nations drubbing of Italy last weekend.
The Champions Cup and English Premiership winner is expected to start against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday as Wales continue their defence of the title they lifted last season with a Grand Slam.
Moriarty wasn’t surprised by the sensational impact of Tompkins, who qualified for Wales through his Wrexham-born grandmother, after knowing him since the pair were in the same England squad.
“I played under-18s with him first and then in my second year with the 20s, Nick was in. He was the same then – very agile, very fast and with great skills,” said the back-row forward.
“I was a bit nervous for him with it being his first cap, but it was great. You don’t want anyone to make any mistakes or for it to get to them, but I thought that he looked very good.
“He injected a lovely bit of pace to finish off his try and I don’t think that he could have asked for a better start to his international career.
“Nick will take confidence from that, although we know that it will be a different sort of challenge in Ireland.
“It’s nice to have him here, he’s a good boy and we have all welcomed him in.”
Moriarty was born in St Helens on Merseyside when his father Paul, a dual-code international with Wales, was playing rugby league for Widnes.
He made the England age-grade set-up and was in the side which beat Wales 23-15 in the 2013 Under-20 World Championship final at Vannes in France.
The England team that day also included Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, and Luke Cowan-Dickie, while Wales’ line-up contained Elliot Dee, Ellis Jenkins, Sam Davies, Hallam Amos, Rhodri Williams and Jordan Williams.
The following year, England came from behind to pip South Africa 21-20 at Auckland’s Eden Park with a searing outside break from Tompkins taking out three defenders to set up a try for winger Nathan Earle and spark a successful comeback.
That England side was captained by Maro Itoje and had Billy Burns, who is now in the Ireland squad, at outside-half while South Africa’s No.10 was last year’s senior World Cup-winning orchestrator Handre Pollard.
“There’s a massive amount of players that came through those England squads,” said Moriarty.
“In my first year there was a lot and the second year as well, people who have not just gone on to play for England but to play for other countries.”
Asked if he was surprised Tompkins hadn’t made the England senior set-up before being picked up by Wales, Moriarty explained: “In England, there is a lot more competition and depth. If you are not playing week-in, week-out then you might not get noticed.
“He is in a very strong Saracens team and where players do get swapped in and out a lot, but he has taken a lot from being at that club.”
Forty-two times capped Moriarty said he was “very disappointed” not to have started against Italy, coming off the bench to join Tompkins as a positive force.
“No player in my position would want to be sat on the bench and watching the game,” said the arch-competitor.
“My mindset is that I am here to start and that’s how I go into every camp. I don’t think that there would be much point in me being here if I wasn’t in that frame of mind.
“Obviously it was disappointing to not get the start but, like I said in the World Cup, if that’s my role and I’ve got to be on the bench then I’ve got to take it on the chin, do my best to help the boys that are starting and then add the extra when I come on.
“The better that I play the better chance I’ve got to get that starting spot,” stressed 25-year-old Moriarty.
He revealed having his former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton as a member of Wayne Pivac’s coaching staff is a bonus.
“It’s nice. I played a few seasons with Sam, I got on with him as a player and now I get on with him as a coach,” confided Dragons star Moriarty.
“It’s nice to see him coming on [as a water carrier] with the messages and giving you confidence. He has taken to his role very well, he is around training all the time and has been great.
“He doesn’t speak to us any differently and I have sat down quite a few times with Sam.
“When you are players you don’t want to get in someone’s way of preparing, but now I know that I can use him.”
Moriarty said not much had changed under Wales’ new defence chief Byron Hayward, who has replaced the acclaimed Shaun Edwards.
Edwards has joined France and helped engineer their victory over England in Paris.
“Shaun was a very, very good coach, and that showed with France against England,” said Moriarty.
“There are a lot of players that were with Shaun for a long time, so there will be things that carry on.
“Byron has his own things, but it’s not too dissimilar – there is only so much you can do in defence really. It’s quite a simple game and you’ve just got to put it in when training.
“All the coaches have good relationships with the players, we talk and it’s good.
“It doesn’t really feel that there has been massive change and that’s the best way for it to be for a squad in sport.
“We have all just taken it [new coaching set-up] in our stride. The stuff that they have added has been positive.
“It’s different at a club when coaches come in and completely change things, but there is only so much that you can do in a short amount of time in international rugby.
“I would say we are an evolving team. Rugby never stops changing and you never know what teams will throw at each other.
“We have started a new chapter, we are not looking too far back. We are here to win the championship and Grand Slam again.
“We aren’t looking at past games because we have new coaches, some new philosophies and are concentrating on the now rather than worrying about what has happened in the past.
“We had a good start against Italy, but there are a lot of things that we’ve got to work on in quite a few areas of the game.
“We know that we’ve got to put a big, big performance in against Ireland. Ireland have a big bag of tricks and we did great against them last year in the Six Nations on a pretty poor day with the rain.
“Hopefully, the weather is better this weekend and we can show what we can do with ball in hand.”