Jamie Roberts would be 'a fool' to rejoin Blues - JPR Williams

By Bruce PopeBBC Sport Wales
Jamie Roberts
Centre Jamie Roberts has won 69 Wales caps and played three Tests for the British and Irish Lions
Swalec Finals Day
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Date: Sunday, 3 May
Kick offs: Swalec Bowl Final - Cambrian Welfare v Ystradgynlais 13:00 BST; Swalec Plate Final - Ystrad Rhondda v Newcastle Emlyn 15:15 BST; Swalec Cup Final - Bridgend v Pontypridd 17:35 BST
Coverage: Live on S4C from 12:45 BST

Jamie Roberts would be a "fool" to rejoin Cardiff Blues, says Wales and Lions great JPR Williams.

Wales and Lions centre Roberts, 28, is tipped to leave Racing Metro of France at the end of the season and has had talks with English club Harlequins.

Williams says regional rugby in Wales has been a "disaster" both financially and in playing terms and wants the four regions reduced to just two.

"Cardiff Blues are embarrassing at the moment," Williams said.

"He'd be a fool to come back and play for them. He'd be sensible to go and play for Harlequins."

Roberts, who has won 69 Wales caps and played three Tests for the Lions, left Blues to join Paris-based side Racing Metro in 2013.

Blues are 10th in the Pro12 table, having won six of their 13 league games so far this season, although they did reach the quarter-finals of the second-tier European Challenge Cup before losing to Welsh rivals Newport Gwent Dragons.

No Welsh side has won the European Cup, either in its initial guise as the Heineken Cup or current format as the Champions Cup.

"We've had 12 years of regional rugby and it's been a disaster, financially and playing-wise," said Williams, 66, who was capped 55 times by Wales and played eight Tests for the Lions.

Jamie Roberts and JPR Williams
Jamie Roberts and JPR Williams are both international rugby players and medical graduates

"They're losing money all the time and that's because there's too many players, too many coaches, too many backroom staff.

"I'd like to see eight clubs and East and West Wales as our two regions.

"I think it would be financially much more successful.

"It would give our youngsters a chance to play more competitive rugby with promotion and relegation - you've got to have that - and more of our young players would be playing regularly."

Welsh rugby's elite professional tier was reduced from nine to five teams for the launch of regional rugby in 2003.

One year later one of those teams, Celtic Warriors - a merger of Bridgend and Pontypridd rugby clubs - closed down amid controversy over finances.

That left Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons and Blues as the nation's leading domestic teams.

Club sides such as Pontypridd and Bridgend - who face each other in Sunday's Swalec Cup final at the Millennium Stadium - continue as semi-professional teams playing in the Welsh Premiership and acting as feeder clubs to the regions.

Pontypridd legend Tommy David, the former Wales dual-code international, agreed with his fellow 1974 Lions tourist Williams that the regional game in Wales was struggling.

"You look at the regions and it's all about winning obviously, but the most important thing is you look at the crowds and it's embarrassing," David said.

"I understand tribalism, but look, I'm a fan of all the regions deep down - it's a stepping stone.

"I would encourage any Pontypridd player - and I'll upset the supporters by saying that - to go into the Blues side, because then they'd be recognised and hopefully move on to playing for Wales or the Lions.

"But there's no doubt that regional rugby from a supporter base is absolutely rubbish at the moment, which is sad to see when you compare with England and Ireland."

A report by accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers in November 2012 warned that the four regions might not survive their financial problems and criticised "poor management".

JPR Williams and Tommy David, the 1979 Bridgend and Pontypridd captains, pose with the Swalec Cup ahead of Sunday's final
JPR Williams and Tommy David, the 1979 Bridgend and Pontypridd captains, pose with the Swalec Cup ahead of Sunday's final

The Welsh regions also struggled to match the wages on offer from French and English clubs, with a steady stream of leading players opting to play outside of Wales.

A new financial agreement between the WRU and the regions was agreed in August 2014, with the intention of alleviating the financial problems.

It also also introduced national dual contracts.

Twelve players, including Wales captain Sam Warburton, have so far signed the new deals which are part-funded by the WRU and the regions.

Both Williams and David agree that the new contracts are a step forward, but see no problem with Welsh players continuing to play abroad as long as they are available for Wales duties.

"I think central contracts are a good thing because you've got control of the players and you can decide how often they are to play, and also more chance of keeping the players in Wales," Williams said.

"Having said that, it doesn't really matter as long as they have a contract to release them for training with Wales and playing for Wales, then I don't really see any issue.

"If they're playing in France and England they become better players."

David added: "Although it's a wonderful sport, it's a short period of time your rugby career, trust me, so if someone comes along and offers you a massive contract of course you want to go.

"Irrespective of where they go it's about the individual player and he wants to improve, but most important he wants to see the money go in the bank as well.

"He may have a family, but when he retires from rugby what does he do after that?

"So he's got to capitalise now and you can't blame any player for moving to any part of the world when the big money exists."

Cardiff Blues have been asked if they wish to make any response, while the WRU is known not to comment on speculation regarding player contracts.