Roberts on a fast track to Racing Metro after turning down Cardiff contract
Wales’ crackdown on players who join clubs in England and France was challenged less than 48 hours after it started when Lions centre Jamie Roberts, rejected a new contract from Cardiff Blues that would have made him one of the highest paid players in Britain.The 26-year old, who hopes to qualify as a doctor at the end of the season, was offered €376,000 a year by the Blues, where he has spent his senior career. He told the region that he wanted to move for lifestyle, not financial, reasons and is expected to sign for Racing Metro.
Robert Howley, the Wales interim coach, said on Tuesday, after announcing Bayonne scrumhalf Mike Phillips had been dropped to the bench for tomorrow’s Test against Argentina in Cardiff, that players who left Wales for clubs in France and England were putting their international careers in jeopardy.
Roberts said then the policy would turn what was already a tough decision into a dilemma, but the following day he told the Blues he would be leaving at the end of the season. If he joins Racing Metro, he will become the 10th Wales squad player to leave Wales in the past two years after Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook, Lee Byrne, Luke Charteris, Paul James, Huw Bennett, Aled Brew and Craig Mitchell.
Neil Jenkins, the Wales kicking coach, said: “We want our best players in Wales, but the most important thing is that if they do leave they secure in their contracts a clause allowing them full release for all international training camps and sessions. I am sure that Jamie wants to be part of the national set-up.”
Meanwhile, England are displaying a fundamental shift in attitude within their squad. Past coaching regimes have too often obsessed about winning the collisions and kicking enough goals. Under Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt it is a subtly different story.
“We’re not the biggest team in the world but we’re very mobile,” Alex Goode says. “Andy Farrell is looking for changes of tempo, changes of angles, not being obvious or running into a brick wall. At Test level they’re going to knock you down. We want to move the point of attack, use our footwork and be streetwise.”
Brad Barritt quotes from a similarly refreshing gospel.
“We want to play with tempo. In international rugby you need to do that to wear down opponents. You also get far fewer chances than in a normal club game. You need to be clinical and put the sword in when you can.”
England, both players believe, will display a sharper edge this autumn than has been the case, for years.
Lancaster calls it “the complete game”, a lofty ambition for a coach who has had the job for less than a year. A conspicuous trait of his regime, though, is a willingness to experiment. Lancaster, Farrell, Catt and the forwards coach Graham Rowntree also have a very clear vision of what they want.
“If you split the game into four areas, traditionally we only talk about three: attack, defence and set-piece,” suggested Lancaster yesterday, explaining why thinking players, as well as youthful ones, are England’s future. “People talk a lot about attack but game management is key as well. Those four components are critical to winning games.”
Catt and Farrell have had more time to impart the knowledge picked up in their distinguished respective careers and Lancaster has been pleased with their training-ground alchemy. “It’s actually worked exactly the way I’d hoped it would.
“I knew their characters and I knew I could get on well with them but my gut instinct was they could work well together. I had to check there were no problems when they played together in 2007 but we’ve not had a situation yet where we’ve been on a different page. I think that’s important, otherwise the players see through it very quickly.”
TEAM SELECTIONS ENGLAND(v Fiji, Twickenham, tomorrow 2.30pm: A Goode (Saracens); C Sharples (Gloucester), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), U Monye (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), T Palmer (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Johnson (Exeter), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Waldrom (Leicester).
Replacements: D Paice (London Irish), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), T Wood (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins).
FRANCE(v Australia): B Dulin; W Fofana, F Fritz, M Mermoz, V Clerc; F Michalak, M Machenaud; Y Forestier, D Szarzewski, N Mas; P Pape (capt), Y Maestri; Y Nyanga, F Ouedraogo, L Picamoles.
Replacements: B Kayser, T Domingo, V Debaty, J Suta, D Chouly, M Parra, F Trinh-Duc, Y Huget.
AUSTRALIA(v France): M Harris; A Ashley-Cooper, B Tapuai, P McCabe, N Cummins; K Beale, N Phipps; B Robinson, T Polota Nau, S Kepu; K Douglas, N Sharpe (capt); D Dennis, M Hooper, W Palu. Replacements: S Moore, J Slipper, P Ryan, R Simmons, R Samo, L Gill, B Sheehan, B Barnes.