The unsung player of Super Rugby week one

By Campbell Burnes

Rob Thompson of the Highlanders runs the ball during the round one Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Rob Thompson of the Highlanders runs the ball during the round one Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

We know the likes of Julian Savea and Israel Dagg are the stats kings out of week one of Super Rugby.

But let's talk about the unsung Rob Thompson, the Highlanders' 25-year-old No 12. He plays his Mitre 10 Cup rugby for Canterbury, but is adding to the Highlanders' midfield depth after a direct and effective display in the defeat to the Chiefs last Friday night in Dunedin.

While Richard Buckman and Malakai Fekitoa have brought the aggression and X-factor to the Highlanders' midfield in the past, notably in 2015 when they were champions, Thompson shapes as an ideal foil for Fekitoa on the outside and Lima Sopoaga on the inside.

RUGBY HERALD STATS CENTRE

His 82m gain with the ball from 13 carries and three breaks against the Chiefs may have trailed Tevita Lia and Waisake Naholo among the Highlanders, but Thompson topped all offloaders with four and beat seven defenders, again behind just Li and Naholo.

They were not startling numbers in themselves, but did highlight how many chances the Highlanders created.

Thompson was the most prominent of the New Zealand second fives on display in round one: the Blues' Piers Francis, the Chiefs' Johnny Fa'auli, the Hurricanes' Ngani Laumape and the Crusaders' Ryan Crotty. That is not to say Thompson ranks ahead of Crotty, for instance, in the national pecking order, but it will be interesting to track his progress as this Highlanders backline turns up trumps very soon. Others will show up at second five, such as Jack Goodhue of the Crusaders and Anton Lienert-Brown of the Chiefs. Sonny Bill Williams is due back for the Blues next month.

Thompson was called up for the Maori All Blacks last season, but was ruled out through injury.

Imagine what Thompson could be doing when the stars inside him, Sopoaga and Aaron Smith, are actually on their games? Having Tony Brown as head coach will help him, as Brown was a five-eighths, a man who could slot into the second five position and comfortably cope with the more exacting defensive duties.

The Highlanders have options to cover the midfield, with Buckman yet to return, Matt Faddes and Sio Tomkinson all more than capable of doing a job there. Throw in a resurgent Li on the wing with All Blacks Naholo and Ben Smith and there is every reason to think, that, despite being the least impressive New Zealand side in round one due to their profligacy and inaccuracy, they will fire before too long.

And if Thompson keeps posting compelling numbers, that is even more reason to feel the Highlanders will hit the high notes before long.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 29 Mar 2017 09:32:51 Processing Time: 260ms