As Cardiff Blues host Leicester Tigers tonight in the European Challenge Cup, former Blues and Tigers centre Jack Roberts is hoping to put his injury nightmare behind him as he aims to make his return to action in the coming weeks.
After two injury ravaged seasons at the Arms Park, 27-year-old Roberts joined English Championship side Doncaster Knights on loan at the end of last season before making the move a permanent one over the summer.
A serious knee injury sustained in the last game of last season, followed by a string of subsequent smaller injuries, means he has yet to take to the field this season.
But the north Walian, who was considered an outside bet to make the Wales squad before signing for the Blues, is hopeful of making his return for the Knights before the end of the month and having the same impact that earned him a move to Premiership giants Leicester earlier in his career.
His two former clubs go head-to-head at the Arms Park on Saturday night, in a match that will be shown live on S4C from 7.45pm. Former Wales internationals Mike Phillips, Nicky Robinson and Gwyn Jones will be in the commentary box.
Ahead of the game, we caught up with Roberts to get his take on the match and his perspective on his time with both clubs.
You won the Challenge Cup with the Cardiff Blues – what are your memories from Bilbao?
The Blues won the Challenge Cup while I was there. I wasn’t in the squad because I was injured, but I was in Bilbao. Fair play to them, they flew the whole squad out there, the lads who weren’t playing, girlfriends and families, it was brilliant.
Both teams played good rugby and went out to win it, and it was a good game to watch. It was a great weekend, really, and there was a big party for everyone in the hotel afterwards. The boys who weren’t playing were flying back the next morning, but the boys who played stayed for longer and carried on celebrating for two or three days.
You’re at Doncaster Knights now, how have things gone for you since moving there?
I injured my knee at the end of last season and I’ve missed the whole summer. I recovered from that injury but this season I haven’t played yet because of a few other injuries.
At the moment I’m coming back after pulling my hamstring. These injuries tend to happen after coming back from a serious knee injury, so hopefully they’ll clear up now and I can have a good run at the end of this month and the start of next month.
It can be frustrating being a rugby player sometimes, especially when you’ve been injured for a long time. I was out through the summer so it takes time for the body to get back used to it again.
I hope I’m over that now. I had a good run in the team at the end of last season, playing in the last four games before I injured my knee badly in the last game of the season.
What are your thoughts on how things are going for Leicester at the moment?
I keep an eye on them and I’ve got friends who still play there. They haven’t had a good start to the season but I’m expecting them to improve when the England players come back from the World Cup.
After a bad start to the season, they’re probably looking at the Challenge Cup as a chance to restart their season, to get a couple of good results and performances and to get some momentum going back into the Premiership.
It’s a chance to ease players back in who haven’t played yet, so I think they’ll take this competition seriously and play a strong team against the Blues.
Blues v Leicester – who are the favourites to win?
I’d say the Blues are the favourites to win. They have history in the competition after they won it two years ago. That was a big achievement for the club and I think they’ll be hoping to do it again.
It’s a tough game for whoever comes to the Arms Park, with the way the Blues like to play on the plastic pitch. It’ll be close but I think the Blues will win. I’m in contact with the Blues boys, too, and I’m expecting it to be a good game and a close game.
You had a tough time with injuries in Cardiff – how do you look back over those two seasons?
Obviously, the rugby didn’t go as I wanted it to. For the two years I was there, I was injured for more than a year and a half so I only got to play in a handful of games in my whole time there.
But except for that, I really enjoyed my time there. There’s a great group of boys there and the coaches (Danny Wilson and Matt Sherratt) were really good at the start of my time there.
I didn’t get to work with the new coaches as much, unfortunately, because I was injured, but they were good coaches too. Me and my partner enjoyed living in Cardiff, one of the nicest places to live in the country.
What are your hopes going forward? Returning to Premiership or PRO14 rugby, perhaps?
To start with, I need to be on the pitch consistently, playing week-in, week-out and seeing where that gets me. I haven’t played much rugby over the last couple of years so at the moment I’d just like to be able to play.
I think everyone playing in the Championship like me, would like to step up to the Premiership or PRO14, but to do that I need to get myself fit and enjoy my rugby again.
Do you regard your three years at Leicester Tigers as the highlight of your career so far?
Yes, I obviously had a great time at Leicester. I was lucky to play regularly with international players like Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs, and to play in front of a big crowd at Welford Road every week.
It’s a very special club and there’s no other club in the country with support like theirs, with at least 20,000 watching every weekend. That’s definitely been the highlight of my career so far but I’m hoping that things can get back to that level or even better.
Which young players from the Blues do you think are future Wales internationals in waiting?
There’s a lot of young talent in that squad at the moment. Dillon Lewis and Tomos Williams made an impression on everyone during the World Cup and that shows how good the Blues academy is.
But there are younger players in academy who are very talented, too. Ben Thomas is someone to keep an eye out in the future – he’s a very talented player who can play as a fly-half or centre. And Jim Botham, who plays in the back row, is definitely someone to keep tabs on, too.
European Rugby Challenge Cup – Cardiff Blues v Leicester Tigers
Saturday 23 November, 7.45pm.
Available live and on demand on S4C Clic, iPlayer and other platforms.