Roberts ready to put Lions hurt be­hind him

The Rugby Paper - - News - ■ By SAM JACK­SON

JAMIE Roberts ad­mits to a day of mop­ing around fol­low­ing his Lions axe, but says he can­not wait for the op­por­tu­nity to in­spire Wales’ next gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent on this sum­mer’s tour of Tonga and Samoa.

Har­lequins cen­tre Roberts will cap­tain Robin McBryde’s 32-man party for the clashes with the Pa­cific Is­lan­ders, look­ing to make a state­ment over his omis­sion from Warren Gat­land’s Lions squad.

Wales face Tonga at Auck­land’s Eden Park on June 16 as part of a Pasi­fika Chal­lenge dou­ble header with New Zealand and Samoa. They will then face Samoa in Apia the fol­low­ing weekend.

Roberts said: “It’s a huge hon­our, not just for me but for my fam­ily. I’d like to thank Robin McBryde and Shaun Ed­wards for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity.

“More im­por­tantly, I’m ex­cited for the young play­ers in the squad. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for them to ex­pe­ri­ence the Test en­vi­ron­ment and know what it’s about at that level.

“I think a lot of the se­nior play­ers in the group who maybe haven’t had the chance to play in the last cou­ple of years now have the chance to step up and lead this team.”

With 91 Wales caps and two Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions tours be­hind him, Roberts’ ex­pe­ri­ence will be vi­tal this sum­mer in help­ing the 13 un­capped play­ers ad­just to the rigours of Test rugby.

Roberts added: “I’m ex­cited for ev­ery­one in­volved. It will be two tough games, cer­tainly the match at Eden Park will be pretty spe­cial.

“To play be­fore the All Blacks will be spe­cial and we know from the past how tough Samoa are. It will be two tough games with­out our Bri­tish Lions and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

“I was as dis­ap­pointed as any player not to make the Lions squad. I missed out and I moped around for a day, but then you dust your­self off and get back to train­ing hard and play­ing your best.

“That mo­ti­va­tion will al­ways be there, but the fo­cus now is win­ning two games with Wales and pre­par­ing the team as best as pos­si­ble.

“There is some great tal­ent in Wales and with one eye on 2019 it’s about mak­ing sure these play­ers de­velop quickly.”

Roberts failed to gain se­lec­tion for this year’s Lions af­ter star­ring in the com­bined side’s 2-1 se­ries tri­umph in Aus­tralia four years ago and also fea­tured in their 2009 tour of South Africa.

Now at Har­lequins, Roberts was one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers avail­able to McBryde af­ter Gat­land se­lected 12 Wales in­ter­na­tion­als in his 2017 Lions squad.

“We’ve got a good mix of ex­pe­ri­ence and youth in this squad,” said McBryde.

“The se­nior play­ers will be ex­pected to dis­play their leadership qual­i­ties and we want the younger men to show they’ve got what it takes to han­dle the in­tense in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment.”

One of the un­capped play­ers is in-form back row for­ward Thomas Young, 24, who has en­joyed a stel­lar cam­paign at high-fly­ing Wasps.

Oth­ers also aim­ing to make their Test de­buts next month in­clude Os­preys wing Kee­lan Giles and Le­ices­ter back Owen Wil­liams, who is set to join Glouces­ter at the end of the Euro­pean sea­son. Blues’ 19year-old full-back Rhun Wil­liams earns a call-up as pre­dicted by The Rugby Pa­per.

How­ever, in a Wales squad of 14 backs and 18 for­wards, there was no re­call for Richard Hib­bard, nor fly­half James Hook.

Glouces­ter hooker Hib­bard, 33, who won the last of his 38 caps for Wales in a World Cup warm-up against Ire­land in 2015, said: “I can’t re­ally ar­gue with it – all I can do is keep turn­ing up for Glouces­ter and keep do­ing what I love. “You al­ways want to be wanted by your coun­try but I to­tally un­der­stand where they are at the mo­ment. They’ve got one eye on per­for­mances against these teams and also have one eye on the fu­ture.” The for­mer Os­preys for­ward has been named Glouces­ter play­ers’ player of the year and the sup­port­ers’ player of the year. Mean­while Gareth Anscombe, be­low, has signed a new Na­tional Dual Con­tract with Cardiff Blues and the WRU. The Kiwi-born fly-half, who ar­rived in Wales in 2014, said: “It’s pleas­ing to recom­mit to Wales and Cardiff Blues, who are a re­gion I very much want to be a part of. “I’m look­ing for­ward to the tour but I’m only at the start of my in­ter­na­tional ca­reer and hope­fully I can con­trib­ute a lot more in years to come.”

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

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