JAMIE ROBERTS HAS an impressive poker face.
When he wants to hide his thoughts, he can bury them deep somewhere behind a set of thick eyebrows.
But when it’s time to lay his cards on the table he is effusive.
Last week, the Welsh centre sat in front of a table full of Irish rugby writers and added little more than a semi-surprised nod to an ‘okay’ when told that Jonathan Sexton was rumoured to be on his way to Racing Metro.
Like Sexton, Roberts is currently in the final months of a contract in his native country. The current Cardiff Blues man says he is ‘not allowed’ to specify where he is going, but like Ireland’s number 10, it’s an open secret that he will be wearing blue and white stripes next season.
The prospect of Roberts running from 12 behind Europe’s best number 10 is mouthwatering indeed, enough to shove the Paris club up in the odds-makers’ estimations before a Heineken Cup ball is kicked.
The centre, however, held a stony gaze as the question of Sexton was put to him. It was in stark contrast to how he spoke about his last experience of playing in tandem with a star of Irish rugby.
“Every time I get asked about Brian (I say) he was a massive, massive learning curve in my career. The Lions in 2009 and being a 22-year-old who’s grown up admiring someone like him.”
There’s no need to put a surname on ‘Brian’. It’s BOD he’s Drico, it’s the 13.
“I’d only played at centre probably for the season preceding that, most of the start of my career was playing full-back and wing. I think subconsciously I learnt a lot more than I thought…you know in the way he communicates on the pitch.
“Anyone can shout and scream on a pitch, but it’s about communicating effectively and he’s the best player I’ve played alongside or against who does that. It’s only experience that can give you that.
“The amount of time he’s played at the top level of the game is probably unparalleled. You know it’s a level he’s consistently performed. You know he’s probably the greatest centre who’s played the game in European rugby without a doubt. And the scary thing is he’s still going.”
In that brief period of time in the South African winter of 2009, when Roberts and O’Driscoll played as a pair, it was a glimpse of some of the most exciting back play Europe was capable of producing. So having played alongside and against him at the top level of the game, Roberts is better placed than most to offer a critique.
“There’s not many weaknesses to his game. You know as a back line you try and analyse opposition teams, probably looking for weaknesses, and certainly you know when he’s in the team it’s trying to find another route around really.
“And everyone knows the threat he poses in attack as well. He keeps you guessing in defence and you know it’s a far more mentally challenging 80 minutes certainly when he’s playing for Ireland.”
If the Lions starting line-up were picked today, few would argue if Roberts and O’Driscoll renewed their midfield axis. Add Sexton to the equation and the back-line begins to look worryingly potent for Australian eyes.
“It would be a dream come true to go on another tour.” Roberts adds, before realising there’s a chance of him getting ahead of himself. Instead his focus returns to seven days time, when his potential future teammates are in direct opposition.
“I think the main thing for us Welsh boys is; we’ve got a Grand Slam to defend if you start thinking as an individual trying to get on the plane come the summer that’s when you come unstuck.
“It’s about us coming together next week and defending a Grand Slam. That’s very important to us as players and very important to the Welsh public. Obviously we’ve had a difficult autumn but people expect that, come the Six Nations, we turn that disappointment on its head and beat Ireland at the Millennium Stadium.”
If he’s bluffing, we can’t tell.