Jack Roberts: Leicester Tigers centre's friends in high places

By Aled WilliamsBBC Wales Sport
Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts made his Leicester Tigers debut against London Irish in the 2014-15 Anglo Welsh Cup

Wales wing George North is a longstanding friend while England centre Manu Tuilagi and Australian international Matt Toomua are Leicester Tigers team-mates.

Now young Welsh centre Jack Roberts is making his own mark in the game.

The 25-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough season with English Premiership side Leicester, scoring one try in 17 appearances .

"I've really enjoyed the year and it's been good to get out there and get games week to week," said the Scarlets youth product, who joined Tigers from Rotherham in 2014.

"My rugby's progressed this year. It's probably the toughest league in the world in terms of competition and every game is tough."

Born in Bangor but raised in Pwllheli in north Wales, Roberts has been given his chance this season because of injuries to Tuilagi and Toomua.

Roberts has seized his opportunities and has also sought guidance from Tuilagi and Toomua as well as that of Tigers head coach, former New Zealand centre Aaron Mauger.

"I try and learn as much as I can," Roberts told BBC Wales Sport.

Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi will miss the rest of the 2016-17 because of a knee injury

"I was lucky enough to play with Manu for a few games and I really enjoyed that.

"I've learnt a lot off him and Matt Toomua is around the training ground and I can pick his brains when I want.

"If I can learn a little bit off them then I'll be better for it.

"Then you've got Aaron Mauger, who was a world class centre himself.

"Mauger has been a massive help for me. He's looked at my game and looked at ways for me to keep improving.

"He's put a lot of faith and trust in me and played me in big games when he probably had opportunities to play other people.

"I'm very grateful he's put his trust in me and I think I've repaid that trust he's put in me."

Blues bound

Having made a breakthrough at Tigers this season, Roberts will leave Welford Road and the English Premiership at the end of the current season.

Roberts will return to Wales, having signed for Cardiff Blues.

"The main driving force behind the move was to play back in Wales," said Roberts, who studied at Cardiff University.

"When you're playing in Wales you are in the limelight a bit more and I enjoyed living in Cardiff when I was a student.

"I've not played regional rugby and I'm really looking forward to that.

Jack Roberts in action for Llandovery in 2012
Jack Roberts in action for Llandovery against Carmarthen Quins in the Welsh Premiership in 2012

"Cardiff Blues are a club who are going in the right direction and it's an exciting place to be at the moment," Roberts said.

"They're playing some good rugby and have some good young coaches and they're building a really good squad. I'm excited to get started."

Roberts will compete with the likes of Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Garyn Smith and Harri Millard for a starting centre spot for the Blues next season.

"All top clubs, whether it be Leicester or Cardiff, are always going to have strength in depth," Roberts said.

"It will be tough competition but I don't think it gets much tougher than Leicester having to compete for a place.

"If you approach it in the right way it can help you become a better player. You can push each other to better things."

Roberts has represented Wales at Under-16 level and was also in the Under-18 squad.

Friend in the North

Moving back to Wales means Roberts will not have to rely on a wildcard selection for the senior national side.

"Growing up in Pwllheli it's what I've always dreamt about doing," Roberts added.

"But that's not really at the forefront of my mind. I'm just looking to go to Cardiff and try and get in the team and play regularly every week.

George North in action for Wales against Italy
George North left Scarlets to join Northampton Saints in 2013

"We'll see what comes of that."

Should Roberts make it into the senior side, he will follow in the footsteps of friend and former Scarlets colleague George North.

And Roberts says the Northampton Saints wing, raised in Anglesey, is an inspiration for young players in north Wales.

"I've known George since I was about 10 years old and we played age group rugby together in north Wales," Roberts said.

"We then moved down to Llandovery College at the same time. He's a friend and I speak to him to quite often.

"To have someone like George that youngsters can look up to and try and replicate is great for young lads up in north Wales."

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