Jamie Roberts: An obvious but wrong decision

Ben Darvill

Wales face games against Tonga and Samoa this summer without the bulk of their best players with the Lions tour allowing the management to shake things up.

One change that has caused a real debating point is Harlequins centre Jamie Roberts ascent to the captaincy. Roberts has been an outstanding servant for the nation for many years and his marauding runs and powerful displays have seen him become a mainstay of the side.

However, he is an ageing player that is a relic of a bygone rugby age. The Northern Hemisphere simply must move past defensive rugby and towards a more running style if they are to ever close the gap on the Southern Hemisphere sides.

Therefore, Roberts surely isn’t the man to lead Wales, even if it is just for a few Tests this summer. But if not the centre, then who?

Scott Baldwin

Baldwin is a player that looks old before his time in the sense that he has been around for years and is only 28-years-old. The hooker already has 33 appearances to his name and he is becoming a very reliable player for Wales.

Like most hookers, he isn’t particularly flashy and won’t win any awards for scoring a scything try, running through the entire opposition to dab down. Instead, where Baldwin excels is in the simple things. His line-out throwing is solid, his work at the scrum is powerful and he isn’t a man the opposition look to target in the tackle.

With his club side the Ospreys, the scrum and the line-out disintegrate when he is withdrawn which shows his importance to the team from set plays and is a pre-requisite for any prop forward.

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Unfortunately for Baldwin there will always be comparisons drawn against Richard Hibbard who was a bit of an animal for Wales – and still is for Gloucester – and was inevitably going to be a tough man to replace. Away from Hibbard though, Baldwin is a fantastic hooker in his own right and is a genuine leader of the pack with his power, intelligence and set play ability hugely important for Wales.

Where Baldwin could benefit is the fact he is an integral part of the pack. Cohesion between the forwards is vital in international rugby and a leader in both the team and the scrum is crucial in the modern game. Baldwin could have been an ideal candidate for the captaincy this summer with the senior players desperate to be given a chance to lead.

Scott Williams

Williams, who is club captain of the Scarlets seems to be an obvious choice for the captaincy. He is a ferocious player at centre and loves to be involved in any kind of battle, putting his body on the line constantly, which probably reveals why he is injured so often.

He is not just a man that loves hitting a tackle bag though. Williams is a player that can and will deliver on creating space, with the centre working so well in the midfield in creating room for his teammates. While he is not a massive risk taker, he inhibits others to find the space to gamble and gain valuable metres.

The Scarlets man has actually been the replacement for Roberts with the aforementioned partnered with Jonathan Davies in the middle and Williams coming off the bench to good effect. This ability to win games is shown by the fact he has helped defeat old enemy England four times and only featured in defeat to them twice, which is a stat that will make most Welsh fans want him in the team more consistently.

He was actually the man that infamously stripped Courtney Lawes of the ball on the halfway line against England in 2012 that led to his match winning try:

What makes his claim in the side even stronger is the fact he plays beside regular centre Davies for the Scarlets, meaning the two are already forming a powerful partnership in the middle.

Williams already has 46 Welsh caps at the age of 26 meaning he is the perfect blend of youth and experience. If Wales wanted to blood a future captain with Alun Wyn jones already 31-years-old then Williams may have been an ideal choice.

Jamie Roberts

The man himself. Roberts should not be discounted from this list as he has been a fine servant for Wales. Talent wise he may not be the most exciting of players; he isn’t particularly impressive with his hands and is not quick nor evasive when looking for space. Like any normal 12 he is fantastic defensively and is never found hiding when a big tackle is needed, while his ability on the crash ball is something that does gain metres for his side.

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Unfortunately for Roberts is the fact that rugby is, and has changed massively. A player can no longer be a one trick pony that can only defend. Instead they must be a multi-faceted player that ticks a number of boxes for their side.

Owen Farrell, who plays at 12 for England is superb defensively and outstanding in his game management and attacking play making him a well-rounded modern centre. Roberts is not though. The Welshman excels defensively and in his power but creatively he is not prolific, something Wales desperately need as they have struggled in recent months.

Knowledge wise he is the stand-out player in the team and brings a wealth of experience that the younger players will only benefit from in an outfit that must go through transition soon with their team an ageing beast.

He is not the man to take Wales forward though. Roberts is 30-years-old and a player that the modern game is moving away from. Power and strength are vital, but so are finesse and intelligence and the four must be intertwined if a player is to become world class.

Roberts will lead his Welsh side this summer and it will prove to be some of his proudest moments. However, his instalment as captain is only delaying the inevitable changes that Wales sorely need.

 

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