The Prince of Wales
Rugby international Jamie Roberts talks about his career and what the future holds when he hangs up his boots.
Making it to the top as a rugby player requires hard work and determination, stamina and teamwork, and a flair for the profession. And while supreme fitness is not essential in gaining a medical degree, they share similar attributes. Combining both, as Welsh international centre Jamie Roberts has done, calls for dedication verging on the superhuman.
Roberts will hear in August whether he has been selected to represent Wales at this autumn’s Rugby World Cup, but his record so far means he can feel fairly confident. He has played in 69 Welsh internationals since his first appearance in 2008 against Scotland, six of them at the World Cup in New Zealand four years ago. He has proudly represented the British and Irish Lions three times, in 2008-09 and 2012-13. His scoring record includes nine tries for Wales and one for the Lions.
‘I would love to be in the World Cup squad but there is a lot of competition,’ he said. ‘My body is in pretty good shape and
my mind is in pretty good shape, too.’ Indeed, he already has his eye on the next one (Japan 2019) when he will be pushing 33, although he admits that the time at the top for a player in a tough, physical game like rugby is inevitably limited. The average retirement age for a player is the early 30s – a ‘frightening’ prospect, he says. ‘I remember as a 21-year-old thinking that was miles away but it comes around so quickly. Hopefully, I still have some of the best years of my career ahead of me.’
While playing for Wales has been fantastic, he says the Lions call-ups were the ‘pinnacle of what you can achieve in rugby’. One of the high points was scoring the final try in the Lions’ 41–16 demolition of Australia in the third Test decider in Sydney in 2013 – the Lions’ first series win since 1997. ‘It is a different feeling when you are representing Wales. When you win the Six Nations [as Wales did in 2012 and 2013] in a Wales shirt, it is amazing.’
Roberts has been long been working towards a new occupation when his career in rugby comes to a natural close. He graduated with a degree in medicine from Cardiff University in 2013, taking eight years to complete what is normally a six-year course because of his rugby commitments – including a BSc in sport and exercise science in his fourth year. He says it wasn’t easy combining the two; it involved a lot of hard work and long hours in the library, and Roberts says he was frequently tempted to quit the course. But he persevered and has now set himself a new challenge – a two-year master’s in medical science. He hopes to start his studies in November, immediately after the World Cup, and to complete his first term before starting a new season with Harlequins, the London-based team he signed for in May.
Indeed, the opportunity to take his master’s was partly behind his decision to make the move back from Paris, where he spent two years playing for Racing Metro. While he loved Paris, the move to Harlequins will allow him to fulfil two long-held ambitions – to live in London and to study at either the University of Oxford or Cambridge. He will divide his time between his rooms at Queens’ College, Cambridge and a property he has just bought in London with an old school friend.
While the demands of professional rugby mean he is unable to practise as a doctor, he hopes that adding a master’s will help him to do just that when he hangs up his boots for the last time. His ambition is to work in orthopaedic surgery or as a sports scientist, helping to fix the kind of injuries that are inevitable for those who are at the pinnacle of their sport. Roberts has not escaped injury; his ankle, knee, wrist and shoulder have all taken punishment. He admits that the long periods spent out of the game recovering from injury have been ‘pretty brutal’ – undoubtedly the low points of his career. ‘But at the end of the recovery period you have rediscovered your appetite for the game and are raring to go again.’
The injuries have made him aware that life at the top of his sport can be short, so it is important to make the most of the earnings potential in these lucrative years. ‘You can start earning large sums quite young and I think it is important to do the right thing [with those earnings] and to plan ahead.’ Martyn Williams, a former Welsh international and player at Cardiff Blues – where Roberts played between 2007 and 2013 – introduced him to St. James’s Place Partners Jack Price and Andrew Booth of Castle Court Wealth Management in Cardiff. They helped him plan for the future, including setting up a pension and establishing a limited company. ‘My dad has always been quite clever with money and I think I take after him. I’m not one to live an extravagant lifestyle. I’m not tight but I’m not that loose with money, either.’
It was his dad who first took him to play rugby for a local team in Newport when he was seven years old. ‘I grew up watching Newport; I have been a supporter since I was 14.’
The family then moved to Cardiff, where Roberts attended a Welsh-speaking comprehensive, playing for Wales Under 16s, Under 19s and Under 21s before winning his first full cap in 2008.
His father also instilled in him a love of travel, which still endures. ‘My parents used to save their money for life-changing experiences for my brother and me.’ His favourite place is California. ‘I’ve been there four or five times. If there was professional rugby in California, I would be there like a shot.’
Harlequins and Wales fans will be relieved that there is no sign of rugby taking off on the west coast of the US, for the moment at least.