‘A phenomenal 12 months’ - the story of Ross Thompson's Glasgow Warriors rise

What a difference a year makes. In the past 12 months Ross Thompson has established himself as Glasgow’s first-choice playmaker, been named the club’s player of the season, won his first Scotland cap and steered the Warriors to a statement victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Ross Thompson kept a cool head to land five penalties in the 22-7 victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Ross Thompson kept a cool head to land five penalties in the 22-7 victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

To add some context, it was broadly the same Exeter team who were crowned champions of England and Europe just over a year ago while Thompson was stuck in a sort of rugby no-man’s land.

If his rise appears stratospheric, it’s important to note the hard graft that got him to this point.

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A schoolboy talent who captained Stewart’s Melville to victory in the Scottish Schools Cup final in 2016-17, Thompson joined the Scottish Rugby academy and was aligned to the Glasgow Warriors prior to the 2018-19 season. He worked his way through the Scotland age-grade squads and played for Glasgow Hawks and then the Ayrshire Bulls.

Chris Paterson is part of the Premier Sports team for their coverage of Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh on December 27 and the return match on January 2. Picture: Morgan Treacy/©INPHO

When the inaugural Super6 season was cut short due to lockdown Thompson, like so many other promising players, found himself without a game. Not quite ready to step up to the pro set-up, the stand-off had to bide his time before coming off the bench to make his Warriors debut in the 1872 Cup opener against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on January 2 this year.

The sides will lock horns again at Scotstoun on Monday in the first installment of this season’s inter-city double header where Thompson will be pivotal to Glasgow’s hopes of retaining the 1872 Cup.

Chris Paterson worked with him as he came through the ranks and has been hugely impressed with the way he has slotted into Danny Wilson’s side.

“He was in the system for a long time, he played a lot of under-20 rugby and then he never had an opportunity for a year or two,” said Paterson, who will be part of Premier Sports team covering the Glasgow-Edinburgh games on December 27 and January 2.

Ross Thompson made his Scotland debut off the bench in the win over Tonga at BT Murrayfield in October. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“He didn’t play a huge amount of senior rugby but then when his opportunity came he’s just done so well. He’s taken everything in his stride. What we see is his ability to perform under pressure and make the right decisions. It’s a crucial position because you have to marry all the good bits of the forwards and the backs, knit it together and make decisions on the go and almost be a quarterback in terms of delivering the strategy and the structure that the coaches want.

“If you add to that his goalkicking, which has been outstanding, and the fact he’s become an international player and delivered in that arena.”

In an era of rugby giants, Thompson cuts a fairly slight figure – the Glasgow Warriors website lists him as 5ft 11in and 13st 7lb – but Paterson reckons he punches above his weight.

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“His defence is brilliant. We tend to focus on No 10s making decisions and kicking well but if you watch his defence, he’s a really physical defender which is excellent.”

Ross Thompson captained Stewart Melville's to victory in the Scottish Schools Cup in season 2016-17 season, beating Dollar Academy in the final. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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Thompson’s first start for Glasgow came in the second leg of last season’s 1872 Cup when he guided the Warriors to a 23-22 victory over Edinburgh, turning in a performance which earned him player-of-the-match and made the wider rugby world sit up and take notice.

Glasgow had been struggling at the time, notably at stand-off where Brandon Thomson had made a couple of costly errors.

Warriors coach Wilson admitted that pitching Thompson into such a high-profile game was something of a gamble but he’d liked the look of the then 21-year-old in training.

Ross Thompson makes his Glasgow Warriors debut as a replacement against Edinburgh on January 2. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“I’d like to say it was all crystal-ball stuff!” joked Wilson. “At the time we had a couple of tough results with different 10s playing. Ross was still a young kid in the academy. We watched a little bit of him and his calmness was something we recognised in training. He stepped in and wasn’t fazed by anything.

“And then we threw him in right at the deep end for the derby. Credit to him, he grabbed his opportunity and he’s just springboarded from there. He’s now experienced La Rochelle and Exeter in Europe, not looked at all out of place in the closest things to Test-match rugby.

“He’s been capped. I think he’d look back and say it’s been a phenomenal 12 months. But let’s hope and believe that there’s a lot more to come from Ross, which I think there is.”

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Thompson got a taste of international rugby in the autumn when he came off the bench for the final 20 minutes of the match against Tonga, knocking over a couple of conversions in Scotland’s 60-14 victory.

Paterson liked the way he slotted in seamlessly to the national side and believes the 22-year-old has the right temperament for Test rugby.

“It doesn’t appear that being capped for Scotland has changed his mind-set or his preparation – hopefully it just inspired him to do more,” said the former full-back.

“There will be different questions asked of him in the international camp in terms of style of play and great pressure – when you play international rugby you have less time than you have in professional rugby – so being exposed to that will hopefully give him a thirst for more.

“But he’s great to work with – really diligent and intelligent – and I’m just delighted that he is doing so well.”

Chris Paterson is part of the Premier Sports team bringing full live coverage of all four games involving Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh throughout the festive season in the United Rugby Championship. The opening 1872 Cup fixture is on Premier Sports 1 from 6pm on December 27 with the return leg on January 2 on the same channel from 1pm. Find out more at www.premiersports.com