Thursday 19 September 2019

Roberts: 'I sacrificed a lot to play for Wales, then bang, it's gone'

'Some, such as Roberts (p), stranded on 97 Test caps since his appearance against New Zealand in November 2017, never really learn why their time playing at the top has come to an abrupt end.' Photo: PA
'Some, such as Roberts (p), stranded on 97 Test caps since his appearance against New Zealand in November 2017, never really learn why their time playing at the top has come to an abrupt end.' Photo: PA

Ben Coles

Jamie Roberts has never previously spoken about the end of his Test career, partly because he has only recently accepted that nearly two years on he may not play for his country again.

Saturday's Test between Ireland and Wales in Dublin was, rightly, interrupted after 53 minutes to acknowledge Rory Best's final Ireland performance on home soil, with the captain leaving the field to a warm standing ovation. Best is lucky. Only the very fortunate get the opportunity to bow out with that kind of deserved reception.

Some, such as Roberts, stranded on 97 Test caps since his appearance against New Zealand in November 2017, never really learn why their time playing at the top has come to an abrupt end.

"You always picture having this awesome farewell, doing things on your terms," Roberts explains, as he takes the confusion and frustration he has felt over the past 18 months and lets it breathe. "Test rugby is something I gave up a lot of my life for. I sacrificed a lot in body and mind to play that long at international level. And then bang, it stops. It's not your choice.

"The first six months to a year after I stopped being selected were extremely difficult. I didn't feel like I could open up, just in the fear that I might say something that would count against me, because I felt I still had a chance, especially heading into this Rugby World Cup. The Six Nations, autumn Tests are all chucked in your face, acting as a constant reminder. There would be times where I just didn't want to know [how the team performed], which is weird. But I guess it's only human.

"Selection is out of your hands, and I respect that. Hadleigh Parkes has come in and done a great job in the 12 jersey, and Wales have done really well in the past 18 months, so I can have no complaints in that regard. While it feels tough in the moment, you have to take a step back and realise what you did achieve for 10 years."

When it came to coping with the fact he would no longer be a Wales player, Roberts ripped off that emotional plaster by attending the Six Nations fixture against Scotland last year in Cardiff, his first as a punter in a decade. "The easiest thing for me to have done would have been to decline an offer from friends to go watch. But I wanted to process those emotions. It was brutal. Wales carved up, battered Scotland. And I put myself through it. My emotions were split in two: delighted for the lads, but gutted not to be involved. I'm really glad I did it, though, because it just gives you another perspective."

If Roberts was washed up, or unable to continue through injury, then perhaps the transition would have been smoother. Yet he is far from either of those things. In his mind, the 32-year-old could play for Wales tomorrow. "The frustrating thing for me is that I still feel I am good enough," he says. "That is the only thing that nags me. I feel good enough to play Test rugby. But obviously, the coaching staff have gone in a different direction and I completely respect that decision. I think I will finally come to peace with it when I am not good enough, or I'm too old, or when I retire. Then I will have complete peace."

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Roberts is not lacking for distractions. He remains busy off the field, and will be contributing to Telegraph Sport throughout the World Cup. The qualified doctor is studying for a MBA, while at Bath, where he has a year to run on his contract, the "longest pre-season in history" continues, with Roberts feeling as fit as ever, setting personal bests at the gym.

Why study business after eight years spent becoming a doctor? Roberts knows no other way, it seems, than to seek out a new challenge and then attack it.

Maximise

He is taking on more media work, and will be part of ITV's coverage during Wales's opening World Cup matches. "I'm quite keen to maximise my time, always have been," he says. "That's not to say I don't find time to enjoy myself, I do, but I'm very aware of how much free time we have as rugby players. It is easy to burn that time and have nothing to show for it when you stop playing.

"I have always thought about what I will have at the end of my career. Yes there will be caps, medals, but I want to have other things as well. This will be the fourth degree I have studied for, which is pretty cool. Then comes the problem of what you do after you retire, which I still don't know. Obsession is probably the wrong word, but it's a desire to strive off the field. When I fast forward 20-30 years, do I want rugby to define me as a person? No... I don't like calling it a career, it's a life stint. You come in, play, it's guaranteed to finish in your mid-30s. And then you have another life to live."

Not that he is done as a player. Bath are on the cusp of a new era under Stuart Hooper. Soon it will be Christmas and time to consider his contract, a "quite scary, but exciting" time.

Next up, however, is Japan. You imagine that Roberts will be packing a pair of boots, just in case. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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