Streamlined Thompson ready for RWC
September 1, 2011
Thompson appears to be England's first-choice hooker going into the World Cup © Getty Images
Steve Thompson is set to continue his remarkable journey in the forthcoming World Cup despite Martin Johnson originally laughing when the Wasps hooker declared himself available for national selection.
But Johnson is certainly not laughing now after including his World Cup-winning team-mate in his squad for this year's tournament in New Zealand. Thompson's selection is the latest chapter of his return to rugby, the hooker having suffered what was thought to be a career-ending neck injury in 2007.
A second opinion inspired him to make a comeback later that year, although he had ballooned in weight and was forced to undergo a grueling training programme to get back in shape. In the meantime, England appeared to have moved on from Thompson but he had other ideas, pestering Johnson for a recall.
"I think he just laughed at me," Thompson said. "He said there was a chance if I was fit and playing well and they would have a look."
That was all the motivation Thompson needed to persevere with a regime that had seen him shed the three and a half stone he had put on during 2007. Describing his post-retirement diet, he said: "Foie gras for breakfast with a bit of dessert wine just to wake me up!
"Steak with foie gras on top for lunch and a bit of fish at night to try to be a bit healthier. And wash it down with a couple of bottles of red wine." In stark contrast, the Thompson of 2011 is on "egg white omelette, salad with chicken and fish for dinner... and not enough wine."
He added: "I do struggle with my weight and it fluctuates quite easily so I have to really work to keep it down and suddenly, when I went against that, it piled on pretty quickly. For the first couple of fitness sessions, the weight didn't drop straight off but once you start doing three hour fat-burners in the morning before you have even trained properly, it soon starts.
"Once you see that, it is like a bug and you really get into it. It was a massive drive for me. It took me three months to get to a good standard of weight and fitness."
Thompson revealed how watching England's defence of the World Cup he helped win four years earlier inspired his comeback. "It was completely out of my mind and, this time four years ago, I didn't miss it at all," Thompson said. "It was towards the end of the World Cup that I started missing it a little bit and I went for that second opinion and the rest is history."
Indeed, Thompson has managed to force his way not only into England's squad but has arguably overtaken Dylan Hartley and Lee Mears for a starting spot. "That is the way it stands at the moment," he said. "We have just got to see. It is horses for courses.
"Dylan and I are different sorts of players and we offer different things. We have got Mearsy as well, who is totally different to us two and, when it comes, I think all three of us are going to be used throughout the competition.
"We have got to look at the opposition and see how we are going to work it.
"Four years ago, this was my main aim - to get into the World Cup and hopefully be wearing the number two jersey and, at the moment, I have been able to do that I have just got to try and hold on to it."
Yet, Thompson will have no regrets regardless of what happens in New Zealand.
"As much as it is serious, and I love playing for England and am totally passionate about it, there are other things to life," he said. "Hopefully that has brought me the balance and I will try to show that other balance to people as well."
The 33-year-old added: "I am really happy with what happened in my career. I have been blessed."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year
With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch at Twickenham. Tom Hamilton previews the weekend's action
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry