In excerpts from his upcoming autobiography, ‘Centre Stage: My Life in Rugby’, Jamie Roberts railed against the concept of the modern rugby professional and criticised Wales’ ‘berserk’ selection policy
It’s relatively uncommon for active athletes to rail against their employers, but as he nears the end of his career, the gloves appear to be off for 94-cap Wales veteran Jamie Roberts.
The two-time British and Irish Lions tourist has opened up in his upcoming autobiography, ‘Centre Stage: My Life in Rugby’, where not even the Welsh Rugby Union is safe from the centre’s judgement.
Specifically, Roberts lambasted the national team’s 60-cap selection quota as ‘absolutely berserk’, suggesting it deprives the country’s most talented rugby prospects from being able to explore their options abroad.
Introduced in October 2017, the cap quota is designed to encourage young players to remain with one of the country’s four regions, while those with 60 caps are still eligible to play for their country even if based at a club outside Wales.
But Roberts described it as ‘outrageous’ that an athlete’s international career can be determined by where they play club rugby.
David Davies/PA Wire)
“It absolutely breaks me,” Roberts said in Centre Stage, which is ghost-written by broadcaster Ross Harries and due to be released on Thursday.
“Who are the WRU to deny players that opportunity and basically blackmail them for the Welsh jersey? I hate the thought of a young Welsh player having the chance to experience rugby in France or England and being afraid to do it because he’s not then allowed to play for his country. I think it’s absolutely berserk.”
The Dragons midfielder is a veritable journeyman himself, having started his career at Cardiff before going on to represent Bath, Harlequins, Racing 92, Cambridge University and the Stormers in South Africa.
Selection policy has been a major talking point after New Zealandrecently decimated Wales 54-16 in their first autumn international, with numerous top-level talents playing in the Premiership not allowed to take part.
Wayne Pivac’s side put up a much stronger fight when most of those players stepped in for Saturday’s 23-18 defeat to South Africa, highlighting the impact made when the team is closer to full strength.
Do you think Wales should keep or ditch the 60-cap selection quota? Let us know in the comments section.
That’s not the only aspect in which rugby could do with moving with the times, however, as Roberts also took aim at the ‘bull****’ view that training and matches should be all players think about.
The qualified doctor recalled one occasion in 2009 when he was part of a Barbarians team that beat New Zealand 25-18 at Twickenham despite several long drinking sessions in the days leading up to the game.
“I learned that if you flick the switch on a Saturday morning you can deliver, even against the All Blacks at a sold-out Twickenham after you’ve been desperately hungover,” he wrote.
“Rugby’s a monotonous job. You’re in the gym every day, doing the same weights. If you just do it relentlessly every day you get worn out and bored. For me it was about being busy in the week. The more I thought about rugby, the worse I played.”
Roberts has played at the highest levels, touring with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and 2013, as well as winning two Six Nations championships, two of which were Grand Slams.
He played almost his entire international career under Warren Gatland, yet Roberts said the coach was often distant towards him, recounting one short exchange in Wales’ team hotel.
“One day he was coming one way down the corridor and I was coming the other,” Roberts said of his old mentor.
“He just looks at me and goes: ‘Jeez, Scott Williams trained well today.’ Before I‘d opened my mouth to reply he’d gone.”
Roberts later learnt Wales’ management team had concocted the approach as a means to get the best out of him, however, adding: “Warren was very smart at pulling the strings. He understood how to get the best out of his players. It was all about winning, there was no room for sentiment. He’s far smarter than a lot of people gave him credit for.”
It was a major compliment for Gatland, who is widely regarded as one of the best coaches of all time and one of only two men to coach three consecutive Lions tours.
It was under the Kiwi that Wales enjoyed arguably the most successful period in their history, but Roberts believes the nation needs to help itself if it’s to beat those achievements in future.