Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 6°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Roberts loving his ‘brutal existence’ at top of the game

The medical student knows the long-term strain rugby puts on his body, and yet he’s enjoying every minute.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IN RUGBY HISTORY, his is not a unique position.

Jamie Roberts is the latest in a string of medical men to adorn the highest level of the game.

This modern incarnation of rugby, however, is difficult to compare to the one examined by Dr Kyle.

Roberts is not yet Dr JR; his final assessment for a degree in medicine is to be completed in the week Wales cross the Severn to face England in the Six Nations.

As a student, though, the centre is perfectly placed to offer an opinion on the toll the modern game takes on a player.

“Oh, it’s brutal.” Roberts says with a masochistic smile. “I mean I’ve had wrist, knee and shoulder reconstruction, and I’m 26! A scare of a fractured skull aswell when I played a few years ago against Australia, probably strained most ligaments in my body.”

He has suffered and survived, so it would take an incredible revelation in any edition of the New England Journal of Medicine to ever make his own mind cast a doubt.

Certainly, he has no second thoughts about moving his skill-set out of Cardiff this summer. He underlines that moving to France is not about a pay-rise for him. It’s a new challenge; more games with more big hits.

“People talk about the Top 14 and how attritional it is. As a rugby player you are paid to do battle on the weekend. Wherever you play, it’s a brutal existence. No more so than in that league, it is very competitive with a lot of big players.”

Normally, when a defending champion returns to protect and regain their crown , the head is heavy. Wales, on the other hand, after yet another Grand Slam in 2012 don’t exactly fit the bill. The World Cup semi-finalists continued their amazing 2011 form into last year’s Six Nations, but since completing that magical fifth win from five against France on St Patrick’s Day, they have been found wanting.

The opponents have not been forgiving: three tight Tests in Australia brought them into November when they were shocked by Argentina, then Samoa before falling again to the big antipodean two.

“I think we need to forget about (the losing run) as soon as possible, but in the same breath learn from it.” Roberts says. “There are things we didn’t do right in the autumn – predominantly that was playing on the front foot and defending the gain-line.


“Teams seemed to cross the gain-line every time they got the ball which was frustrating defensively and something we’ll work on in the next couple of weeks.

“You need to be playing on the front foot. That means going forward, however fancy you want to make it, you’ve got to be going forward as a team and we didn’t do that. We were playing on the back foot and didn’t really get anywhere.

“We’ll learn from it. It’s better soon forgotten. Everyone was pretty down, especially after losing three Tests to Australia in the summer aswell. So it’s seven on the bounce now and everyone is well aware of it and no one needs to take it to another level.”

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

‘Another level’ though, is exactly where the Welsh have taken European rugby in recent years. Their development of over-sized backs like Roberts, George North and Alex Cuthbert, with speed and agility to match almost anything to play in red before, has made them a formidable outfit.

Ben Birchall/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The trend is both a cause and a result. Top class rugby in the 21st century is more detrimental to the human body than ever before. Roberts jokes that he is not ‘on his last legs’, yet he puts the number 31 on when he might well be. That’s only five years away.

He predicts that the current make-up and intensity of rugby means that, soon, the majority of players will be retired by the age 30. The game has changed, but the innate masculine urge to come out of a skirmish on top remains the same.

“That’s the nature of the game, that’s why we play; that feeling of battling hard on a weekend and the feeling in the changing-rooms after counter-balances any negative that comes with getting injured.  For me, it’s part of the game. You can’t prepare for it.

Nature of the beast

“I think a lot of training nowadays in the gym and so-forth is directed towards prehab – a lot of strength, stability work and trying to minimise the risk of joint injuries.  In a contact sport like rugby, it is going to happen.

“You know it wouldn’t surprise me over the next decade if the majority of boys are retiring in their early 30s.

“It’s amazing looking at the likes of Shane and Martyn Williams how they played the game at that level for so long. It’s incredible. The game is evolving and over the next decade or two, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see players retiring at 30 or maybe even their late twenties the way the game is and certainly how young players are coming through as well.

“There’s guys now coming through at 18 or 19 and being exposed to that high intensity rugby from a very young age.  As a player, you don’t think about it too much, you get on with it week in week out and take the rough with the smooth.

“I’ve had quite a lot of injuries that put me out for five or six months.  That’s the nature of it, get on with your rehab, train really early in the morning and take a lot of stick off the boys.  That’s the nature of the beast.

“I think being a medic makes a me a bit of a hypochondriac.”

Wales’ Jamie Roberts launched the GUINNESS Made of More RBS 6 Nations campaign at Twickenham Stadium. Rugby fans can keep up to date with the latest tournament news and be in with a chance to win a VIP prize to see the Ireland play Italy in Rome at Guinness is the official beer partner to the RBS 6 Nations

Six Nations: Roberts finding no pleasure in facing ‘greatest’ O’Driscoll

Falvey at forefront of sports medicine

About the author:

Sean Farrell

Read next: