"It was like a holiday being in the back row and I loved it," Thompson said yesterday, after being told he would also take over the captaincy duties from Bruce Reihana. "Now, I need to earn my crust in the front row." This came as music to the ears of the red rose hierarchy, who must have wondered whether their World Cup-winning hooker, one of the biggest and most potent performers of the role in Test rugby, had gone soft in his old age.
Lee Mears, the other hooker in Robinson's 30-man squad for the autumn series, enjoyed a belter of a game for Bath against Gloucester last weekend, but is still relatively inexperienced. He is also approximately half the size of Thompson, and while he might be a more accurate line-out thrower - the Northampton man would accept himself that he could not hope to threaten William Tell in an archery contest - this crucial game against the Wallabies is no obvious place for a rookie.
Thompson needs all the game time he can get after six weeks or so of journeyman work in an alien position. While Viadana are not a team of the highest class, they will at least put him through his paces in the tight. "I have played against the Italians a few times they fight to the death and they are big lads who like to charge about," he acknowledged. "You always feel sore after a game against the Italians." Just the job.
Another front-rower with international aspirations, the Worcester tight-head prop Chris Horsman, was not feeling quite so cheerful with life yesterday. Horsman was cited for an alleged stamp on an opponent during the Premiership victory over Leeds at Sixways a week ago and faces a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel in Bristol on Tuesday. Should he be found guilty, a common or garden ban would seriously threaten his chances of making a debut for Wales against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on 5 November.
Nick Kennedy, the London Irish lock, will also find himself before the beak next week, having been accused of a similar offence during the Exiles' narrow defeat at Northampton last Saturday. Both charges were laid following a review of match footage by an independent citing officer.
Sale, the Premiership leaders, have called the hooker Andy Titterell and the tight-head specialist Stuart Turner into their front row for tonight's opening Heineken Cup match against Munster at Edgeley Park, where a capacity crowd will be in attendance. They replace the Frenchman Sébastien Bruno and the Scotland international Barry Stewart, both of whom are on the bench.
There is also a change at lock, where the powerful Argentinian import Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe comes in for Dean Schofield. All of Sale's senior England Test hands will start the match, as will Jason Robinson.
The visitors, meanwhile, will field an all-international pack. However, Peter Stringer, the experienced Ireland scrum-half, has been beaten to a run-on place by the 21-year-old Tomas O'Leary.Reuse content