From his early days as a Test rugby player, Jamie Roberts had the potential to join an elite group of Wales centurions, but an ultimatum between playing for his club or representing his country ended those chances.
It was during the Warren Gatland era that he and fellow British and Irish Lion Jonathan Davies formed arguably the greatest centre combination in Wales' history, each guaranteed legendary status in the history books.
But Roberts has recalled how his international career ended not with the fanfare he deserved but in tears as he was pushed to prioritise his career with Harlequins.
In his upcoming autobiography, Centre Stage: My Life in Rugby, the 35-year-old Dragons midfielder tells the story of how he even considered taking legal action against his Premiership employers.
The book is being serialised by Wales Online, and the latest excerpt revealed Roberts was forced to choose between patriotism and his pay cheque as his Test career was ticking towards its end.
It was during the 2017 autumn internationals that Roberts—who was initially left out of Wales' squad at the time—was recalled as injury cover and featured as a substitute in a 33-18 loss to New Zealand.
Gatland & Co. were due to face South Africa the following week, and although the fixture fell just outside the November Test window, Roberts was assured by his Premiership employers that he was cleared to play.
"Then came the bombshell. My agent called and said we had an issue," Roberts said in Centre Stage, which is ghost-written by broadcaster Ross Harries and is due for release on Thursday.
"Harlequins had been in touch to say that if I played in that final game, I wouldn’t be a Quins employee by the weekend.
"I couldn’t understand it. I’d reported for Wales duty with their approval, and had been gearing up for the final week of the autumn when the ultimatum arrived.
"I was to report for training on Thursday morning or they’d tear up my contract. Their position was that the South Africa game fell outside the international window, and they weren’t obliged to release me for it."
Roberts was reminded of a similar case involving team-mate George North, whereby Premiership Rugby fined his employers at the time, Northampton Saints, £60,000 for letting him play for Wales outside a Test window.
The two-time Six Nations Grand Slam-winner was sat on 94 Test caps—97 including his three Lions outings—and targeting his ton, a feat that's only been accomplished by six Welsh rugby players to date.
On one hand, Roberts was assured of a place on the bench against the Springboks, but it was explained to him by then-Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards that if he left, Gatland would not pick him again.
"It was a horrible position to be in: forced to make a choice between my Wales career and my life in London," he continued. "One more shot at international success versus my job."
Roberts sought legal advice before meeting with his agent and Harlequins CEO David Ellis, who explained the dispute was in regards to the player breaching a confidentiality clause in his agreement.
It was understood he could represent Wales outside the Test window provided it was kept secret, but Quins said they had evidence he'd "told people other than Gatland," though they wouldn't disclose who nor how they knew.
The English club—who were mid-table at the time—offered to buy Roberts out of his contract for £130,000, which he took as confirmation that Premiership Rugby were threatening a potential points deduction if he played.
"That brought with it a certain guilt complex," Roberts explained. "If I stuck to my guns and won the legal argument, Quins might lose league points, which could impact on their prospects and therefore the prospects of my colleagues."
He detailed a tough conversation with Gatland regarding his choice to re-join Harlequins, sharing some heartfelt words with Leigh Halfpenny and captain Alun Wyn Jones before leaving a Wales squad for the final time.
"It [his talk with Jones] was my last interaction with a Welsh colleague in a Wales camp, before I trudged through the car park and clambered into my car," he wrote.
"I cried all the way down the M4 on my journey back to London. Crossing the Severn Bridge seemed symbolic, like an imaginary drawbridge had been pulled up, slamming the door on my Wales career.
"I didn’t sleep again that night, and turned up to training looking gaunt and exhausted.
"I will never forgive Ellis or the Quins board for railroading me into that decision. I’d signed the contract in good faith, but when push came to shove it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on."
Four months later, Roberts was told by then-Quins coach John Kingston how the club had no more room for him on the wage bill after signing New Zealand-capped Francis Saili.
One more tournament or summer tour could have been enough to take Roberts beyond the century, but he instead felt as though he'd given up his Wales career 'for nothing'.
The regret is palpable as the passage concludes with the qualified doctor stating he "should have stayed with Wales," having made more appearances for his country than he has for any of his six professional clubs.
Roberts may not have hit 100 caps, but his rugby legacy remains untouched regardless of when or how his Wales career ended, cemented as one of his nation's all-time greats.
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