Welsh legend Roberts struck by 'special' Newlands

    2020-01-24 08:36

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - He has 97 Test caps, has played in two British & Irish Lions tours and two Rugby World Cups, but 33-year-old Jamie Roberts is far from done with seeking new experiences from the game he has been playing professionally since 2005. 

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    The Welsh centre is the latest addition to John Dobson's Stormers, having received a message from the coach of New Year's Day saying he had cracked the nod to make the trip south. 

    Roberts, a qualified medical doctor, had his first run on the Newlands turf on Wednesday and while the conditions were noticeably different from the sluggish, heavy pitches he is used to, he felt right at home immediately. 

    A Test recall is not something he has ruled out just yet, but the priority right now is to spend the next few months helping the Stormers win their first ever Super Rugby title in what is their final season at their iconic stadium. 

    "When I first walked out at Newlands yesterday and saw the terraces at the end of the ground ... it's a special place," Roberts told media after another hit-out at Newlands on Thursday.

    "You immediately feel part of that history when you see the jerseys on the walls of all the famous players who have played here in the past."

    Having featured in top-tier European rugby for nearly 15 years, most recently at Bath in the English Premiership, this move is obviously not about money for Roberts. 

    Instead, he is looking for an opportunity to experience something different from the game he has devoted his life to. 

    "It depends what you define as lucrative. For me, lucrative is about experience. It's not about money," he said.

    "South Africa, for me, having toured here around 10 times ... coming to South Africa is special.

    "Rugby runs in the veins of people here ... it's a religion."

    At his best, Roberts is a player with a natural burst of pace and an ability to slip through tackles. He is, after all, 6 ft 4 in and a physically imposing specimen. 

    Having watched Super Rugby since he was a child, though, Roberts is fully aware that the next few months will give him a challenge that he has not yet encountered in his career. 

    "Super Rugby is different to northern hemisphere rugby. It's quicker, you play higher, you see a lot more passing and it's a more open game," he said.

    "I have to adapt my game to be a success here. There is no doubt about that. You're never too old to learn."

    Dobson was on the hunt for a centre with experience, to primarily help win games of rugby but also to provide guidance to what the coach believes is "one of the most exciting halfback pairings in world rugby" in the form of World Cup winners Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse.

    With Damian de Allende now playing his rugby out of Japan, Roberts immediately becomes the most senior No 12 at the union even though he is new to South Africa. 

    He is already embracing his role as a mentor to the younger players in the squad and had particularly kind words for Willemse. 

    "He's light on his feet. I think he's stepped me about three times in training already," Roberts said.

    "He's an enthusiastic young man with all the tools to really shine at this club and at international level, without a doubt.

    "I'm a big believer that your younger players learn far more from their senior players than they ever do a coach.

    "That's how I felt as a younger player, so when you become a senior player there is a huge responsibility."

    Roberts won't have to wait long to experience Newlands on game day, either, with the Stormers at home to the Hurricanes for their season opener on February 1.

    "I've never experienced a welcome like this at a club and it's been quite humbling," he said. 

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