As Jamie Roberts trudged his hulking frame off the Millennium turf last Saturday following Wales’ triumph over Italy, there was a somewhat pained expression on his face.
“After conceding two tries with our mistakes we’re glad to get the win really,” he admitted. “It was great in the first game of the Six Nations to be able to come out firing as we did… but to concede two tries off our mistakes when we defended so well throughout the game is disappointing.”
It was not all doom and gloom however.
“The changing room is obviously a happy place,” he added. “We have to be pleased with the win – international rugby is about winning, and we’re one from one.”
It has been quite a while since Roberts put on the red jersey. Hammering England to steal the Six Nations crown from their bitterest rivals almost a year ago was the last time he turned out for Wales. Returning home is evidently an emotional experience for the centre, known for anything but his sentimentality on the field.
“I’m delighted to be back playing for Wales. It’s the first time I’ve played here since England, and it’s always a special place to play. They stop the music half way through the anthem and the atmosphere and harmony with the choir is completely unique as a player and I’m absolutely privileged to have that chance.”
So how has the move to France impacted his feelings about playing for Wales? Is there any difference now?
“Certainly it does. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and having missed the Autumn it makes you desperately hungry to get back in a Wales shirt. Hopefully today I did it proud.”
He certainly did. Immovable as ever in defence and working like an extra back row around the park, the break that lead to Scott Williams’ try reminded audiences that he can add subtlety as well pure power.
Hobbling as he came off – “just a dead-leg,” he assured a concerned group of onlookers – he could be forgiven for keeping his fingers crossed. Injuries to his knee and ankle have hampered the opening few months of his time at Racing Metro. With Jonathan Davies close to returning from injury and Scott Williams showing extremely well in recent weeks, his status as the automatic choice for the 12 jersey could soon be under threat. What does Roberts think of his centre partner’s form?
“I’ve trained and played with Scott for the last three or four years with Wales. Obviously three doesn’t go into two with Jon coming back into contention next week, but he’s a talented player and I think before the World Cup he was certainly one of the most improved players in the Welsh camp and he’s developed year on year and grown into one of the standout players in Europe for his club this year.”
Regardless of who makes the side, Roberts is under no illusions about the task ahead of them.
“We know we have to be at our best next week against Ireland. They’re going to be formidable in Dublin and it’s a huge game. They’re always a tough outfit to play against and especially after what happened last year in the first match of the tournament.”
On a more personal note, 2013 was a big year for Roberts. A Six Nations crown, a Lions tour and a big money move across the channel to Racing Métro – not to mention graduating as a doctor from Cardiff University.
What of that fabled move across the channel – how is he settling into life in Paris?
“I didn’t appreciate how hard French is to learn!” he says with a certain Gallic animation. “We have lessons every Tuesday and Thursday and I sit in a classroom with Mike Phillips, Ronan O’Gara and Johnny Sexton. When you chuck a load of rugby boys in a classroom it’s like being back at school. I’m picking up all the tricks of the trade from Mike Phillips at the moment… which is interesting.
“But you have to embrace it, you’re the foreigner in another country and you have to embrace the language and the culture to fit in and become part of the team.”
Does his move add a little extra spice to the France clash this year?
“Definitely, with the three Racing guys in the French squad I’m sure there will be some banter flying on the field and on the social networks.”
First up though, a trip to face Ireland at the Aviva in a fixture that is traditionally one of the best of the championship. It should be a corker.
By Patrick Cheshire (@jpcheshire)
Under Armour athlete and Wales centre Jamie Roberts was speaking at an exclusive press conference held by Under Armour, the official technical partner of the Welsh Rugby Union. For more information, please visit www.UnderArmour.co.uk
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images