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Wasps and Guy Thompson put Toulon heartbreak behind them

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Any team would miss a player of the calibre of Nathan Hughes but the way Guy Thompson has stepped into the breach at No.8 for Wasps tells you a lot about their strength in depth.

Thompson, who turns 29 on Saturday, burst over for what looked like being an historic try last weekend as Wasps so nearly held off European champions Toulon in the Stade Mayol.

Drew Mitchell’s try after the clock had turned red broke the visitors’ hearts – and prolonged Toulon’s unbeaten home record in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Defeat means Wasps must beat Leinster at the Ricoh this weekend to stand a chance of making the knockout stages.

Claim a bonus-point win and they could still top the Pool if Toulon cannot match that result at the Rec.

And Thompson admits he and his teammates are desperate to repeat last year’s heroics – that saw them claim a dramatic draw with Leinster in their final pool game to make the quarter-finals.

“It was pretty heartbreaking, we worked so hard and the clock had ticked over, but fair play to Toulon they are a top club and showed incredible spirit to come back,” he said.

“But really, we cannot afford to dwell on it too much

“Leinster is a game we need to win at all costs, we can’t worry too much about all the permutations.

“History has repeated itself because we needed to get a result against them last season as well – it’s almost déjà vu.

“They will be hurting after our last match and no matter what team they put out Leinster are always a tough opponent – they are not the three-times champions of Europe for nothing!”

A trip back to the quarter-finals would be just reward for a Wasps side that shocked Europe in the first two rounds of the competitions with huge victories over both Toulon and Leinster – the latter in Dublin.

Wasps are the last English club to lift Europe’s premier trophy and Thompson would love to see his squad move one step closer to experiencing those days again.

“We are not here to make up the numbers,” he added.

“Last year we made the quarter-finals and that was what we wanted to do. This season our target again is to progress to the knock out stages – not many people gave us a chance when the pool was announced, but we were quietly confident.

"Of course we’d love to go further and try to get to the semi-finals, even challenging for titles, but you can’t look too far down the line.

"All focus has to be on this weekend against Leinster and trying to get the win to go through. If we were to reach the quarter finals from a group like this, it would be a big achievement. If we can do that, who knows what could happen.

“We are working hard on and off the pitch to try to become real contenders, you can see from our performances in Europe, our coaching staff, our new stadium that we are heading in the right direction.”

Thompson’s work off the base of the scrum in the south of France was all the more impressive in the face of heavy pressure from the Toulon pack.

But the former Jersey man stood tall and with James Haskell and Hughes soon returning from injury – Thompson knows he must continue to take every chance that comes his way.

“We all play rugby because we want to start – but Nathan is a fantastic player,” he added.

“His injury means I have got the chance to start and hopefully I have made a mark in his absence. Moving forward, whoever starts has everyone’s backing, it’s about the squad.

“There has always been a great group of back-row forwards here, and what people maybe don’t see is how hard we all work together – to push each other on and help each other out.

“And when someone is injured you want whoever fills that shirt to be in the best possible position.

“With James (Haskell) and Nathan (Hughes) injured that means there have been starts for Sam (Jones) and me – Sam’s tackle count has been ridiculous and if we get the chance again this week we will try and back it up.

“Nathan is just a fantastic player but he is also a great lad – we get on really well and while we are different types of player, we work hard together and really push each other.” 

 

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