Jamie Roberts joins The Tele­graph

Pride and pain

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

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 last ap­pear­ance against New Zealand in Novem­ber 2017, never re­ally learn why their time play­ing at the top of the sport 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 for the first time. “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 I do that, I am ex­tremely proud, and very grate­ful for the op­por­tu­ni­ties I had.”

When it came to cop­ing with the fact that 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. Af­ter count­less matches on the field, this was his first in the stands 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

‘The first six months to a year af­ter I stopped be­ing se­lected were ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for me’

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 a washed-up player, or un­able to con­tinue his ca­reer 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.”

Roberts is not lack­ing for dis­trac­tions. He re­mains, as ever, re­mark­ably busy off the field, and will be con­tribut­ing to Tele­graph Sport through­out the World Cup. The qual­i­fied doc­tor is study­ing for a MBA at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity, 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 he ever has, set­ting per­sonal bests at the gym.

Why study busi­ness af­ter eight hard years spent be­com­ing a doc­tor? Roberts knows no other way, it seems, than to seek out a new chal­lenge and then at­tack it, al­though what field of work he will find him­self in five, 10 years down the line is still a mys­tery.

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’m keen to max­imise my time. I do en­joy my­self but it is easy to burn the free time we have’

“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. You ap­pre­ci­ate that rugby is a sport­ing ca­reer.

“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-thir­ties. And then you have an­other life to live. You can­not be naive about that; you have to be sen­si­ble and think what is go­ing to de­fine you. I have to start se­ri­ously think­ing about that in these next few years.”

Not that he is done yet 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 next con­tract, a “quite scary, but ex­cit­ing” time.

Cal­i­for­nia, where he spent some time this sum­mer driv­ing a Mus­tang up the iconic Route 1 high­way, will be home to a new Ma­jor League Rugby team next year in Los An­ge­les, al­though he is ex­tremely happy at Bath.

Next up, how­ever, is Ja­pan. You imag­ine that Roberts will be pack­ing a pair of boots, just in case.

New line of work: Jamie Roberts is study­ing for his fourth de­gree while still play­ing for Bath; (be­low) in ac­tion for Wales against Eng­land dur­ing the 2016 Six Na­tions

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