Roberts picks up speed as a juggernaut approaches

He was centre of attention last time England came calling but Wales badly need his cutting edge now

If England are intending to revisit their Millennium Stadium gameplan of 2008 and so pin a target to the torso of Jamie Roberts, then whoever is detailed with the brick-wall impression should be warned. Jamie is a little bigger. And a great deal faster.

Little wonder, then, that Martin Johnson is considering recalling Joe Worsley for the role. It was the masochistic Wasp, of course, who managed to pick up the man-of-the-match award in Cardiff that day despite his side being on the wrong end of a 23-15 scoreline. The reason why was imprinted all over the frame of the young, 17st centre.

"It was brutal," said Roberts last week. "That was easily the worst I have ever felt after a Test match. Yet to wake up in the morning feeling the way I did, but knowing we had won, was priceless. A lot of people spoke about how well England defended, but it's the scoreboard which counts. Yeah, I'd have it the same way again. By concentrating on me, space was created around me."

It is fair to say, Roberts would be confident of not being the one reaching for the Ibuprofen this time. His improved training stats suggest he would be on top of Worsley before he knew it.

Wrist surgery in the summer meant five months on the sidelines but Roberts did not intend to twiddle his thumbs, even if the cast would have permitted it. His part-time studies for a medical degree were one distraction; the fitting of a turbo on his already impressive engine another. "I knew it was a blessing in disguise," said the 24-year-old. "My speed was an issue. It gave me the time to put in the work I needed."

Under the guidance of Adam Beard, Wales's fitness coach, he shaved more than 0.1sec off his personal best for 10 metres. (If that does not sound much, think of it as one second over 100m). It hurtled him from being down among the pack to third-fastest in the squad. "Any back will tell you they are looking to improve every facet of their play," he said. "I am striving for perfection. I can't afford with the set-up now to rest on my laurels. You are gone as soon as you are picked because of the competition that is here."

The fan in the red shirt will be forgiven for wondering what on earth Roberts is talking about. Without the No 12 – man of the series on the 2009 Lions tour – Wales so clearly lacked a cutting edge in the autumn series. The mind inevitably drifts back to last June and a Test in Hamilton where, despite losing 29-10, the Dragonhood put in their best display on All Black soil. Roberts was at the vanguard, scoring their only try and battering through the home defence. That was the last time the Cardiff Blue played internationally.

He is clearly what Wales require and he is under no illusion what is required to deal with the juggernaut blundering down the M4. "You know when you play England it is going to be the most physical game you've played in," he said. "It's against the old enemy and Friday night in Cardiff is going to be electric. It's always a huge game for us players, just as it is for the senior citizen in mid-Wales, watching in the pub with a pint."

Except this time around it seems even more important. Under Warren Gatland, Wales won their first seven Six Nations games; since then they have lost five of their last eight. With three further defeats to the southern hemisphere giants before Christmas, not forgetting that embarrassing draw against Fiji, patience in the valleys is running lower than the coal supplies.

"I don't think we have gone downhill, although I can see from the outside that it is easy to say that," said Roberts. "But we feel we have moved forwards as individuals and collectively. We do appreciate, however, that international rugby is about results. And we could do with one now – most definitely."

The last two times that Wales beat England in the opening fixture they have gone on to win the Grand Slam. "Hopefully history can repeat itself," said Roberts, who was a debutant in the 2008 glory run. "It is all about securing that first 'W' and making it snowball from there. We know what we've got to do. It's about turning up, knowing the game-plan, everybody being clued in and then just going for it. We've got almost a full-strength backline to choose from and in players like Shane [Williams] and James Hook individual match-winners. For the rest of us, as long as we're playing our role, that's all that matters."

If that involves taking another battering for the team, then so be it.

"The bruises are worth it," added Roberts.

Anglo-Welsh relations: History of mishaps and punch-ups...

1933: England 3 Wales 7

Wales's first win at Twickenham but what was that score again? With 10 minutes left, Vivian Jenkins converted Ronnie Boon's try for a 9-3 lead. Or so the Welsh touch judge and fans thought. The referee had decided it missed the posts; Wales only found out at the final whistle. Where was the television match official?

1980: England 9 Wales 8

England's first Grand Slam in 23 years survived an ugly Twickenham battle. Wales flanker Paul Ringer was sent off early for a late lunge at John Horton. "Everybody [was] at each other's throats and growling, instead of watching the ball," said England's Roger Uttley, who was forced off by half-time with a gashed head.

1987: Wales 19 England 12

"Sickening!" screamed Rugby World's front cover. Ruthless rugby at the roofless National Stadium. Line-outs led to fist-fights and Wales's Phil Davies got a smashed cheekbone while Steve Sutton's nose was broken by a team-mate's elbow. The RFU banned England captain Richard Hill and three others from the next match. In the magazine, Bill Beaumont suggested a "sin-bin" to help players cool off. One day, Bill...

2003: Wales 9 England 26

The second leg of England's first Grand Slam since 1995. Inspired by the classy Will Greenwood and Lawrence Dallaglio, England came through. "We won by 17 points which was seen as some kind of moral victory for Wales," said then England captain Martin Johnson last week.

2005: Wales 11 England 9

In an unusual rush of young blood to the head, England under Andy Robinson picked Mathew Tait, the day before his 19th birthday, in Cardiff. One dump tackle from Gavin Henson later, the tyro was hauled off after 60 minutes and dropped while the leg-waxing Henson's winning penalty made him a Grand Slam hero.

Hugh Godwin

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas