We spoke to Wales International Jamie Roberts ahead of his first Varsity rugby match
It’s going to be men against boys
“I’m mainly helping to raise standards and shouting at the lads when they’re dropping balls.” Jamie Roberts is the definition of a hard nosed rugby player. The Wales international has been capped 74 times and won Player of The Series on the 2009 Lions tour. But he is not the Wednesday night knocking your drinks over at the Union kind of hard nosed rugby player.
He was, until July, an undergraduate at Cardiff and is now doing his Masters at Cambridge. Though he demands exceptional levels of commitment and passion from himself and his teammates on the pitch, he is as personable in conversation as any Welsh rugby fan after a match at the Millennium stadium. We spoke to him about his preparation and expectations ahead of Thursday’s Varsity rugby match.
Let’s talk about Varsity, specifically how it feels playing for Cambridge in comparison to your past teams?
Obviously it’s very different. Playing at Grange Road [Cambridge’s home ground] a couple of weeks after losing to South Africa in the World Cup Quarter Final was different – a pretty unique experience. It’s been great. Playing rugby at whatever level can be very similar and very different in certain aspects. The basics of the game remain the same. I suppose my job coming in is to take personal responsibility and help to raise the standards a little bit however I can.
Have you taught the Cambridge players anything specific?
Yes and no. They’re at a certain level and you can’t go beyond that. We’re looking at doing the basics better. Doing the same things on the rugby pitch and realising the consequences of what you’re trying to do three or four phases down the line. That’s something that maybe at this level of rugby isn’t coached or isn’t appreciated by the players. So trying to bring that in and improve phase play. As well as improving general game awareness and the reasons for doing things.
I think mainly it’s just helping to raise standards and shouting at the lads when they’re dropping balls, you know. It’s something you don’t want to do but ultimately when I came into training the lads were dropping balls and they used to laugh at it. It’s not about that, it’s demanding high standards of yourself regardless of where you play rugby. It’s a big game and you need to have personal pride in your basics skills and standards. I’m quite big on that and keeping the lads under pressure. You have to put pressure on yourself to keep your standards and basic skills high.
It’s a game if we do the basics right and play in the right areas on the ball then we’re in the game. So, it’s not something too complex. Doing the basics well and making the right decisions.
Honoured to be selected to represent Cambridge University at this years Varsity match vs Oxford. Roll on Dec 10th!
How will this visit to Twickenham compare to your previous matches at rugby HQ?
It’s going to be different. It can be a bit of a free for all on the field and you don’t really see passages developing and things emerging on the field – it’s such a free for all. It’s not as structured and predictable as professional rugby. In that respect it’s a lot harder. Although, it will be more structured than the games we’ve played during the season and will be refereed to a much higher standard. There’ll be a TMO too.
In open rugby a player of your calibre has a higher footing than your opposition, do you think it’s fair that you’re playing against opposition who may have never played against professional players before?
Well you’ve got to get the ball first, and that’s ultimately what we try and get to – backs against props. Mismatches in the park and looking at depth in our play. It’s something we need to improve on going into Thursday. Having depth and being able to make decisions with ball in hand before the defence is in your face.
It is different but also for me I want to concentrate on my own game. There’s a part of me that’s wanting to manage a lot of players and do the right things. Whether that’s the other player in the centre, the half backs or wingers talking other players through matches, but then not taking my eye off my job and what I want to do. I’m very aware of that on Thursday and wanting to concentrate on my own game more than anything.
You hold yourself to quite high personal standards and I would expect you to play to your full capacity on Thursday, so as well as leading other players you’ll be playing to your full ability?
Without a doubt, definitely. It’s a big stage and it’s a great surface at Twickenham. Hopefully we’ll get 30 or 40,000 there if not more. It’s a huge occasion and for me and a privilege to play in a match of this calibre really, look at its history. [Sneezes] Sorry mate, that’s a sneeze. The names who have played down the years, how special it is for these lads. It’s a huge occasion, not just for their careers but in their lives. I suppose my job is to enjoy that for what it is and hopefully contribute to a winning team. And whether that’s carrying the ball or defending. Just doing my job, kick chasing on the field or whatever. It’s fitting into the team as best possible.
There’s been controversy regarding Oxford’s captain and his ineligibility to play. What’s your take on that?
Well obviously the rules dictate that you have to do a matriculated course to play in the match. Those are the rules, those are the rules. You have to abide by it, what more can I say? He’s obviously a good player. He’s played three or four times over and a top player. So he’ll be missed, there’ll be no doubt about that. I’m sure whoever comes in and replaces him will be a quality player.
The replacement is a 19-year-old playing his first varsity. The new captain will be Henry Lamont, your opposite number. In the build-up, speaking about you, he said: ‘My role hasn’t changed much, there’s no magic formula, he has his strengths and so do we.’ What would you say in response to that?
Rugby is a team game and I’m sure they’ll have a certain way they’ll want to play and so do we. Cup final matches are always a bit of a game of chess. You try and suss each other out in the first 20 minutes or half an hour. You try and figure out how you’re going to play, we’ll be the same in that respect. I’m sure it will be a bit of cat and mouse to begin with then hopefully we’ll open up some space. Play the right game and play an expansive game, as we want to, there’s no good playing that way and ending up seven points down under our own sticks after five minutes because we made the wrong decision on the ball.
Describe Oxford in three words
The other place.
Favourite night out?
My only night out in Cambridge is Cindies on a Wednesday. That’s the only nightout they have here I think. We’ve had some good results so obviously all the lads head out there. In Cardiff, 10 Mill Lane on a Saturday night.
Because it’s open until six?