Faith put in midfielder to help revive Wales

TOBY ROBSON IN CARDIFF
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012
Jamie Roberts
Getty Images
JAMIE ROBERTS: "The scrutiny you receive in the limelight of professional sport is something taken out of context."

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Jamie Roberts provides hope and frustration for Welsh rugby.

Big, strong and intelligent, on his day the big midfielder is world class and, at 1.93m tall and 110 kilograms, represents Wales' answer to his All Blacks opposite, Ma'a Nonu.

It is Roberts that the Welsh will look to this weekend to inspire their stagnant attack, but he must provide more than a battering ram.

Ditto for big wing George North and same again for centre Jonathan Davies, two more 100kg backs who provide platform but not finish to the Welsh attack.

How sad that Wales no longer looks like a team of creative genius. Instead, it is a phase team that attempts to build pressure through possession and finish through fitness.

Roberts knows something has to change.

Eight years ago, the now 26-year-old sat in a Cardiff pub and admired Wales' courage and endeavour.

The home side lost 26-25 that day to the All Blacks, but went down swinging and Roberts believed today's team could learn from its predecessor's approach.

"I think you have to play rugby against these guys. You can't afford to tighten up your game and become robotic in the way you play. We have to go out and play with flair and play a brand of rugby which we know we can play and just express ourselves.

"The Welsh teams that have come close in the past have done that ... I remember watching the game which was one point in it. I was watching it down at the pub with my mates and that team that day just went and played."

This is when images of Welsh rugby's past flicker into the mind - Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, J P R Williams and, more recently, Jonathan Davies.

Roberts is right to hope that sort of flair returns both to his own game and his team's.

He missed Wales' summer tour to Australia because of a knee injury and had played only six games in a struggling Cardiff side before returning to the national setup against Argentina.

Three weeks on, he is regaining some confidence despite the side's form and this week was a central spokesman against an array of critics including former players.

He is an impressive figure, articulate and measured when he speaks. He is in his fifth year of medical school at Cardiff University, juggling studies with professional rugby commitments.

He did not make excuses, saying his team-mates should get off social media if they did not like the abuse they were copping.

Roberts was "frustrated", but offered perspective from the fish bowl of Welsh rugby.

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"The scrutiny you receive in the limelight of professional sport is something taken out of context," he said.

"There's up and downs in everyone's careers and more so in professional sport. We need to appreciate this will ultimately make us better people, better players and make us appreciate how hard it is to win international rugby games."

Roberts promised to bring his traditional physicality to the test and believed meeting the All Blacks on the gain line was the only way of limiting their ability to break the line. But he also knew the only way Wales would get even close to that was if they could break out of their formulaic style and throw the ball around.

- Fairfax Media

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