Jamie Roberts said: "The main worry in South Africa is the quality of the healthcare system and people’s access to it." Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
Jamie Roberts said: "The main worry in South Africa is the quality of the healthcare system and people’s access to it." Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

I hope coronavirus doesn't reach townships, says Stormers star

By Steffan Thomas Time of article published Mar 18, 2020

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LONDON - Jamie Roberts is far from your average rugby player and the former Wales and British & Irish Lions centre is more qualified than most in sport to articulate his fears over coronavirus.

The 33-year-old Roberts is a Cardiff University medical graduate who has also studied at Cambridge University. He has practised medicine regularly alongside his sporting career.

In more than 10 years at the highest level, Roberts has played club rugby in Cardiff, Paris, London, Bath and now Cape Town after he swapped The Rec for Super Rugby franchise Stormers.

He had made a fine start to life in the Southern Hemisphere prior to the spread of Covid-19.

Sport in the Rainbow Nation has been suspended after president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a ‘national state of disaster’ with up to 60 known cases of coronavirus.

Roberts said: "The main worry in South Africa is the quality of the healthcare system and people’s access to it.

"I’ve only been here a few months. You just hope something as fast spreading as coronavirus doesn’t get into the townships. That’s the biggest worry here.

"There was a big announcement by the president on Sunday that they are closing the borders to people from high-risk countries. I was thinking of nipping back to Wales in April, but I can’t do that now because I wouldn’t be allowed back into South Africa.

"There are still huge question marks over whether Super Rugby will get finished. I think it’s unrealistic to envisage us playing for another three or four weeks and by that time you are into mid-April. The tournament was meant to finish in the middle weekend of June.

"I can’t see them fulfilling all their fixtures."

Roberts is grateful for rugby allowing him the chance to travel the world.

He has played for Cardiff Blues, Racing 92, Harlequins, Bath and now Stormers at club level as well as winning 94 caps for Wales and three with the Lions.

His move to the land of the Springboks happened quickly at the start of the year and after more than a decade playing the role of physical back-line battering ram with Wales under Warren Gatland, Roberts has been enjoying expanding his approach in Super Rugby.

He produced two man-of-the-match displays before coronavirus hit and insists he is already a better player for what has been a brief stint in South Africa so far.

"I’m a pretty competitive bloke so my goal is always to win. Super Rugby is challenging my skillset and I feel as if I’m distributing the ball more," said Roberts.

"I’m not playing a complete ball-carrying role with the Stormers which was my role in many sides throughout my career.

"I feel I am a guy who gives the team momentum but we’ve got one hell of a forward pack here so I don’t have to do that as much. ‘When you do take on the line as a ball-player or a ball-carrier you are running into less traffic.

"There is more aggressive line speed back home so a lot of the time you are carrying into two people.

"In South Africa teams have to defend with width because you can get the ball out so quickly — meaning it’s often one-on-one collisions.

"In that respect, if you can use your footwork a bit more, your offloading game comes into play more. It’s testing my ability to pass at full pace in terms of 15-20 metre passes.

"We had a great start, winning our first four games after I joined. Three of those were at home at Newlands and we beat the Lions away with a last-minute try at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

"That was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played in because of the heat and altitude.

"It was absolutely brutal! It was just over 30 degrees and at altitude and I don’t think I’ve experienced conditions like that in my career before.

"To play in that dry heat at altitude put my lungs on fire. I literally couldn’t move by 75 minutes so that was very tough.’

Roberts was arguably at his peak when producing a series of immense displays as the Lions were beaten 2-1 by South Africa in their 2009 Test series.

Now back in one of his favourite countries, he has revealed that talks are ongoing over him playing for the Stormers against the Lions next summer.

He said: "The Stormers play the British & Irish Lions in the opening game of the 2021 tour and being a rugby romantic and having been on that tour in 2009, it would be pretty cool to get the chance to play against the Lions in South Africa.

"We are having conversations about maybe doing that. The opportunity to keep on the adventure and maybe experience America or Japan would also be awesome.

"There are a few options to mull over, but I’ve got to make those decisions for the right reasons. When I reflect, rugby has given me so much opportunity."

Daily Mail

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