Former Wallabies captain James Horwill has said that it is “great to see more northern hemisphere players heading south” after it was revealed his former Harlequins team-mate Jamie Roberts has joined the Stormers. 

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The Welsh centre left Bath with immediate effect on Thursday and is set to team up with the Cape Town-based Super Rugby side ahead of the start of this season, which begins on January 31. Josh Matevesi has arrived at the Rec from Newcastle as a replacement. 

While it is commonplace to see players from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia move to the northern hemisphere in the latter stages of their careers, particularly when they have given up Test rugby (although South Africans can now represent the Springboks regardless of where they play), the journey in the opposite direction is less trodden. 

Roberts’ journey against the grain is something that Horwill clearly supports, and this is something that has been echoed by many fans as well in the wake of the announcement. 

Only a handful of players from Europe have ever made the move before and although it usually suspends any hopes of playing international rugby for the players, it has always been regarded as an opportunity to play rugby in a different environment.

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Danny Cipriani and James Haskell are two players that made the move in their prime, and returned to play for England after that. Likewise, France’s Frederic Michalak had spells with the Sharks in South Africa and still played for his country after. 

The likes of Andy Goode, Geoff Parling and Gareth Delve have also made the move in the past, but that was once their Test hopes had expired. 

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Harlequins’ Joe Marchant is currently on loan with the Blues, which is a unique move for a young English player, but will equally have a hugely beneficial time playing alongside Beauden Barrett before he returns to England and fights for a Test spot. 

The 33-year-old Roberts has not played a Test for Wales in over two years and while he still holds hopes of wearing red again, this move is one that he clearly wants to make. 

Playing in South Africa should not damage his chances of playing for Wales any more than playing in Bath did theoretically, as he is still eligible to be picked having 94 Wales caps (97 including the British and Irish Lions). 

Roberts now has a brilliant chance to experience a different style of rugby from what he has been used to in Europe. The bulldozing centre replaces World Cup winner Damian de Allende, who now plays in Japan, and serves as a like-for-like alternative. 

In his prime, he was easily one of the best centres in the world and it must be positive that the northern hemisphere has a chance to showcase some players in Super Rugby. 

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