CARDIFF Blues have emerged as the leading contenders to sign new Wales centre Nick Tompkins on loan from Saracens for next season.
Tompkins has two years remaining on his contract with the Premiership and European Cup champions, but their impending relegation to the Championship for salary cap breaches means Mark McCall is forced into letting some high earners leave the club.
Tompkins, 25, was a shock selection in Wayne Pivac’s Six Nations squad and has impressed in attack.
All four of Wales’ regions – Dragons, Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets – expressed an interest in signing the explosive midfielder.
Tompkins has been heavily linked with a move to the Scarlets, but TRP understands John Mulvihill’s Blues are now leading the way. Should the deal get completed he will play in the Welsh capital for a season before returning to Allianz Park.
Tompkins said: “We’re looking at opportunities and to see what the future holds. I’m with Saracens long term.
“I want to be playing at the highest standard so we’ll see what I’m going to have to do in terms of that.”
The WRU’s new funding model for next season will see the governing body pay 80 per cent of the wages of the players in head coach Pivac’s elite 38-man squad.
But with Tompkins interested only in a loan move to Wales the Blues would have to pick up his wages in their entirety and other Welsh regions are wary of signing Tompkins as his stay is likely to last only 12 months.
Should the Blues land Tompkins it would still be a massive statement of intent for the region who are also hopeful of signing Tompkins’ Saracens and Wales team mate Rhys Carre and Dragons’ Wales second row Cory Hill.
The WRU’s selection criteria means any player with fewer than 60 caps, unless uncapped, must play their rugby in Wales if they wish to be considered for international selection.
The fact Tompkins is under a long-term contract with Saracens means he will remain eligible after returning to England.
However, the midfielder will have to return to Wales at the end of his Saracens deal in 2022 if he wishes to continue playing Test rugby.
STEFFAN THOMAS & ALEX BYWATER