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Wales's Jamie Roberts relishing South Africa return

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: April 03, 2014

Wales's Jamie Roberts.

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JAMIE Roberts's international career will go full circle when he touches down in South Africa this summer.

Just rewind six years to when Warren Gatland delivered one of the most audacious selections of his Wales tenure.

The Grand Slam champions had just been hammered 37-21 by the Springboks in Bloemfontein and every taxi driver you flagged down in Pretoria was ready to inform you that more punishment was about to be dished out at Loftus Versfeld — the infamous venue of Wales's greatest humiliation a decade earlier.

Cue Gatland, who duly handed a fresh-faced Roberts, a full-back with just two caps to his name, the No. 12 jersey against the reigning world champions.

Roberts hadn't played at centre since his school days at Glantaf and here he was with less than a week to get to grips with a new position, as well as home icon Jean de Villiers.

"I just remember Shaun Edwards sitting me down and saying we want you to play centre on the weekend," recalls Roberts. "I had gone on tour as a full-back/wing, looking back it is amazing what has happened in the six years since."

That decision proved one of Gatland's coaching masterstrokes and 12 months later Roberts was back touring the republic with the British and Irish Lions, where he was to develop a potent midfield partnership with Irish talisman Brian O'Driscoll.

This summer, he will face the Springboks again, this time with 58 Wales caps and two Lions tours to his name.

"It is a great place to play rugby, a country who are passionate about the game," adds the 27-year-old, speaking as part of his role as an athlete for Red Bull UK. "I have been fortunate to have toured there with my school, with the Blues, with Wales and the Lions.

"It is a great rugby nation, but a pretty unforgiving place as well, as we found in 2008.

"They are one of the top sides in the world, but it is a tour the boys are looking forward to."

While Gatland has concerns over his Wales-based players and their potential lack of rugby leading up to the two Tests against the Boks, he may have not to worry about Roberts and his other two Lions currently residing in the suburbs of Paris.

Last weekend's 32-22 victory over Stade Francais in the Parisian derby has lifted Racing Metro into fifth place in the Top14 table and in firm contention for the end-of-season play-offs.

A run of five successive league victories is a far cry from the travails of the opening couple of months when Racing's stellar array of internationals struggled to gel and a club with one of the biggest chequebooks in the game found themselves embarrassed in front of their own fans by both Harlequins and the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup.

Roberts missed the early months of the season, with ankle and knee injuries restricting his appearances for his new club.

But after an impressive Six Nations Roberts has returned to help fire Racing into a position where they have become dark horses to challenge the likes of Clermont and Toulon for Le Championnat.

"At the start of the season, there were a lot of new faces, new coaches and we did struggle, but there is a real buzz about the place at the moment and hopefully we can keep it going and challenge for the title,"

And Paris in the springtime?

"I am loving it here," he adds. "The weather is good at the moment and the boys are playing some good rugby. Let's hope it continues."

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