In-form Dragons man has to keep knocking after yet more Wales selection pain

INFLUENTIAL: Hooker Bradley Roberts has been superb for the Dragons but misses out on the Wales side to face Ireland <i>(Image: Huw Evans Agency)</i>
INFLUENTIAL: Hooker Bradley Roberts has been superb for the Dragons but misses out on the Wales side to face Ireland (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

BRADLEY Roberts has made a superb start to life at the Dragons only to have crushing disappointment delivered in a New Zealand accent twice in the space of just over three months.

Last October, the 27-year-old was left out of Wayne Pivac’s initial squad for the autumn internationals only to then get the call-up when Dewi Lake suffered a shoulder injury.

Roberts went on to win just one more cap to take his tally to three, coming on in the disastrous defeat to Georgia.

Head coach Pivac got the boot in December and his compatriot Warren Gatland stuck with the Dragons man when naming his squad for the Six Nations on January 17.

With Ken Owens selected as captain, Roberts was set to battle with the fit-again Lake for the 16 jersey only for the Ospreys man to suffer more misfortune.

He limped off at Leicester and was replaced by Scott Baldwin who, with Ryan Elias, Elliot Dee and Sam Parry all sidelined, then got a Six Nations call.

The 34-year-old must have had one hell of a first training week at the Vale Resort.

Baldwin, whose last cap was in 2017, has gone from fourth in the pecking order to second.

South Wales Argus: Wales hooker Scott Baldwin
South Wales Argus: Wales hooker Scott Baldwin

Wales hooker Scott Baldwin (Image: PA)

Gatland named his matchday squad to face Ireland at midday on Tuesday and it was Baldwin instead of Roberts that got the nod for what is likely to be a brief cameo if Owens doesn’t last the full 80 minutes at Principality Stadium.

It is another blow for the Dragons man, who must channel that frustration to try and force his way in against Scotland, England, Italy and France.

One thing is for sure, Roberts couldn’t be doing any more at club level.

Naturally, it would be easier to shine at the heart of the front row of the Ospreys’ snarling pack – and Baldwin has probably been helped by playing Champions Cup rugby – but he has produced the goods all season for the Dragons.

He might still be pictured in Ulster kit on his profile on the United Rugby Championship website but the South Africa-born front rower has been at the heart of much of the good work done at Rodney Parade.

Roberts has made 13 appearances since moving from Belfast and, with Dee’s injury ending the duel for the 2 jersey, started eight on the spin before heading off for Wales duty.

He has made 63 carries, 34 of them successful for a healthy percentage, and is ranked 17th in the league with his tackle tally of 104 (95 per cent success).

South Wales Argus: Dragons hooker Bradley Roberts
South Wales Argus: Dragons hooker Bradley Roberts

Dragons hooker Bradley Roberts (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“Bradley is a gem and there is a lot of growth in him; he is very coachable and has a lot going for him,” said Dragons defence coach Simon Cross earlier in January.

“He is diminutive in terms of height but is hard to stop. He has a lot of tries close to the line [five] and his leg drive in contact is excellent.

“He is always on the ball and hungry for work, while importantly his set piece is very good.”

The Dragons are ranked first for lineout success in the URC on 91 per cent, with Roberts responsible for 76 of their 146 hits.

Perhaps it is the scrum rankings that have cost him – the Dragons are 16th of 16 with 79 per cent won.

Because one thing that Roberts cannot do is grow.

The URC comes up with another gem when incorrectly listing him as 5ft 1ins but the hooker is short, even if he packs a punch.

Roberts is listed as 5ft 8ins by the Welsh Rugby Union and Baldwin is 6ft 2ins.

The Ospreys man looks to be the safer option but it would be a surprise if he is in the mix for the World Cup later this year.

Roberts will be and this feels like a missed opportunity to unleash the former Ulsterman as an impact sub against the Irish.

“I felt like this time I was really putting my hand up and, on form, I really deserved it. But it wasn't meant to be, there is only so much I can do and the decision is not mine at the end of the day.”

Roberts’ words from October after initially missing out are appropriate now ring true, even if the man making the judgement calls has changed. He’s just got to keep knocking.