Cardiff battle to keep Roberts in Wales


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The Independent Online

Cardiff Blues are showing more backbone in the fight to retain the services of the Lions centre Jamie Roberts than they displayed in their Heineken Cup surrender to Sale three days ago.

While club officials rubbished reports that Roberts, one of the few box-office draws remaining at the Arms Park, had been given just 24 hours to decide if he would sign a new deal or follow the financial Yellow Brick Road to France at the end of the season, they said they were still negotiating hard with the Welsh Rugby Union over a possible dual contract arrangement.

Last week, the Blues' chief executive, Richard Holland, admitted the club was in serious danger of being priced out of the race for Roberts' services.

At least two wealthy French sides, thought to be Toulouse and the Paris-based Racing Metro, are keen to lure the 25-year-old midfielder across the water, and the Blues have reacted by pressing the governing body for financial assistance.

The Blues are barely recognisable from the side who reached the knock-out stage of the Heineken Cup last season.

A large proportion of their best-known players – the centre Casey Laulala, the scrum-half Richie Rees, the prop Gethin Jenkins, the lock Paul Tito and a fistful of loose forwards including the hugely influential Martyn Williams and Xavier Rush – have either switched clubs or retired.

Should Roberts quit at the end of term, there are fears that his fellow international back Alex Cuthbert might do likewise.

It is not only the Blues who would blanch at the thought of Roberts joining Toulouse and forming a midfield partnership with the latest hot-shot talent to emerge in France, the teenage centre Gaël Fickou. The whole of European club rugby would be every bit as petrified.

Fickou's match-winning performance against Leicester at the weekend is still the talk of the Heineken Cup community and yesterday he was rewarded with promotion to the full Test squad for the meetings with Australia, Argentina and Samoa next month.

Philip Saint-André, the national coach, included seven other uncapped players in a 33-man party shorn of some big names, including the Biarritz duo of Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy, the Clermont Auvergne centre Aurélien Rougerie and the Toulouse backs Maxime Médard and Clément Poitrenaud. Most of those individuals are currently incapacitated or slowly working their way back to fitness after long-term injury.

"We need to change generations," said Saint-André, explaining why he had picked only 10 of those who took France to the World Cup final in New Zealand this time last year.

"The youngsters will come into camp and learn our system by living with players like [the long-serving captain] Thierry Dusautoir."

There is a possibility that Scarlets will be able to play their international outside back Morgan Stoddart against the Heineken Cup champions Leinster this weekend, despite his dismissal during the heavy defeat by Clermont Auvergne in France last Saturday.

Stoddart, who was ordered off for committing two yellow-card offences, will have his case heard via written submission over the next couple of days.