Stormers and Springbok halfback duo Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse look set to benefit from the arrival of veteran Wales centre Jamie Roberts. JON CARDINELLI reports.
It was surreal to watch Stormers captain Siya Kolisi showing Roberts around Newlands on Thursday afternoon. While a host of South Africans pursued opportunities in the United Kingdom and Europe at the end of the 2019 season, the Bath centre went the other way by swapping a stint in the English Premiership with a spell in the Super Rugby tournament.
‘It’s a privilege to be here,’ Roberts said when fronting the media at the iconic stadium. The centre has toured South Africa with Wales before, and was the starting No 12 when the British & Irish Lions visited in 2009. He understands the traditions of the country and – in the wake of his recent move to the Stormers – is looking to add to a proud legacy in what will be the final Super Rugby season at Newlands.
‘You walk around the ground and you get an idea about the history. You walk through the corridors and you see the names on the walls and the pictures of the great players that have come before. It’s a privilege to be at one of the oldest Test venues and incredibly special when you think that this will be the last season that the Stormers play at Newlands.’
The Stormers will move to the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point in 2021. Roberts confirmed that the Cape franchise is looking to end their tenure in the southern suburbs on a high.
‘I’ve come here to win a Super Rugby trophy with them,’ he said. ‘When I was younger, I used to wake up on a Saturday to watch Super Rugby. I know it’s a different game from what we’re used to in the northern hemisphere and it’s going to be a challenge to adjust to the quicker style of play.
‘For me, the move is all about the experience. I was fortunate that the director of rugby at Bath recognised that this would be a great opportunity for me to expand my horizons. I was lucky that John Dobson happened to be in London recently and that he was looking for an experienced centre. John eventually texted me on New Year’s Day and we took it from there.
‘Coming from Wales, I’m used to an environment where people love the game. Over here in South Africa, rugby is a religion. I toured 10 times as a player and can honestly say it was the highlight. Now I will have the chance to be part of a local team. It’s a huge honour.’
The Stormers have recruited the veteran for more than one reason, though. Roberts will have a key role to play in that No 12 channel. As one of the most experienced players in the squad, he will also be tasked with mentoring the younger backline players.
Jantjies and Willemse were part of the South African squad that won the World Cup in Japan last year. Both players, however, will have a lot to prove in 2020, and it’s the belief of the coach that Roberts’ presence will make all the difference.
‘He’s been brought in to nurture both of those players,’ said Dobson.’They’re one of the most exciting halfback combinations in rugby, and having a guy like Jamie on the outside will help in terms of developing their game management.
‘Hopefully he will bring the best out of both of them. It’s time for those guys to step up, especially Gaza [Willemse] who has been playing at this level for three years and will focus on No 10 this year.’
Roberts told SARugbymag.co.za that he was looking forward to playing alongside Willemse in particular.
‘He stepped me three times at practice,’ the Wales veteran said with a laugh. ‘I feel that he has all the tools to be a world-class player.
‘You can learn more from a senior player than you can from a coach in some respects. That’s part of my agreement with the Stormers: to help the younger guys.
‘I consider it a privilege to work with guys like Damian, Rikus Pretorius and others. I can help them with their mental approach as well as their game management.’
The Stormers will play their first Super Rugby match of the season against the Hurricanes at Newlands on 1 February.
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