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Bradley Roberts

Bradley Roberts training in South Africa

Underdog Roberts ready to bite back

Bradley Roberts will finally get his wish of playing a fully professional game at his ‘home’ ground when the Dragons face the Sharks at Durban’s King’s Park in Round 6 of the BKT United Rugby Championship. 

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The South African-born Wales hooker has been able to visit his mum for some home cooking and is loving being back in the city where he was raised.

But when it comes to kick-off time this weekend, all bets will be off in the friendship stakes with the Sharks players as he attempts to help the Dragons make it back-to-back wins and notch their first victory on South African soil.

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“I’ve been in the UK for six years now and it’s been nice to finally get home to Durban on a rugby trip,” said Roberts.

“This is where I learned my rugby and the dream growing up was always to play for the Sharks. I was a huge Sharks fan from a young age and loved going to King’s Park and having a Braai in the car park.

“As a hooker, my hero was Bismarck du Plessis – he taught me how to throw-in. The Sharks had a front row of Bismarck and his brother, Jannie, as well as ‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira.

“They were all huge men, and I guess I didn’t really make it at the Sharks because of my size. The Sharks were looking for a like-for-like replacement for Bismarck when he left, and that was never going to be me.”

Educated at Michaelhouse School and later Stellenbosch University, Roberts was good enough to pay for the Sharks U18’s in the highly prestigious ‘Craven Week’ and then made the grade with the U19 team in the Currie Cup. That came after he had had a ‘dabble’ with RGC, in the Welsh Premiership, but when he failed to secure a contract he moved to Rainey Old Boys in Northern Ireland.

That’s when Ulster picked up on him, gave him a contract and paved the way for him to use the Welsh qualification of his paternal grandmother from Llandysul to move to the Dragons and play for his adopted country.

“I have always been the underdog because I’m on the smaller side as a front row forward. I just needed a coach to look beyond my size to really see what I could do,” said Roberts.

“I got that at Ulster and now I’ve got it at the Dragons. It will be nice to play at King’s Park with my Dragons teammates and it’s great the Sharks will be bringing back most of their South African World Cup winners.

“We want to test ourselves against the best teams when they have got all their big players in the side. We want to be challenged to find out where we are and what we have to do.

“They’ve lost the last five games on the bounce and so they are under pressure to deliver a win, especially at home. What we have to do is put them under even more strain.”

The Dragons will go into both games in South Africa buoyed by their first win of the season against Ospreys last weekend. That 20-5 triumph included a storming try from Roberts.

Coming in front of the on-looking Wales head coach Warren Gatland, and in a game in which he went head-to-head with one of his main rivals for an international spot, Dewi Lake, it all added up to good day at the office.

Having missed out on the World Cup, Roberts is now concentrating on contributing as much as possible to the Dragons cause in order to try to attract attention to them and him. He’d love nothing more than to get back into the Wales picture, but isn’t maing that his only goal.

“I thought the Six Nations went well for me at the beginning of the year, but then I didn’t make the cut for the World Cup. That was challenging but allowed me to get a good break and recharge the batteries,” he added.

“I needed some time off after a very busy season, and feel better for it. I’m still working on my throwing in and I love getting the ball in my hands and having a run.

“Ball carrying is one of my biggest strengths, as that 50 metre try against the Ospreys showed (it was actually 20 metres, but is growing by the week)!”

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