Roberts ready to put Lions hurt behind him
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.”
Experienced: Jamie Roberts hands off Luke McLean of Italy to score