Written by John Davidson
James Roby says playing against Tonga in the 2017 World Cup was the “best atmosphere” he has ever played in and is looking forward to experiencing it again with Great Britain & Ireland this year.
The Lions will take on Tonga at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on October 26 in their tour opener. Roby is vying for one of the hooker spots along with Josh Hodgson and Daryl Clark.
The St Helens number 9 was part of the England squad that edged the Pacific nation 20-18 in the World Cup semi-final in front of 30,000 passionate fans in Auckland nearly two years ago.
In that match Mt Smart Stadium was draped in red as the Tongan supporters turned out en masse to support their team.
Roby is excited to get another taste of that special Mate Ma’a phenomenon.
“With that Tonga game it was an incredible atmosphere – the best atmosphere I’ve probably ever played in,” the veteran admitted.
“They didn’t stop singing from minute one to the end of the game. We won the game at the end, and some thought it was a bit contentious, but the way they kind of greeted us when we exited the stadium and when got on the bus, they’re were really great, friendly people.
“It was a great experience for me to play in.”
Great Britain has been on hiatus as a concept since 2007. Roby is pleased to see the tours make a comeback.
“I think it’s great,” the 33-year-old said.
“Growing up my memories were of watching Great Britain. I’m really pleased that it’s back, it’s such an iconic jersey.
“I’ve been lucky enough to wear the jersey in the past and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure I do it again.
“The brand of Great Britain is so powerful and iconic, there’s generations who grew up watching it. So when it changed to England it was a bit different, but I suppose it’s nothing to do with us as players, it’s out of our hands.
“No matter if it’s Great Britain or England, it’s still the highest honour you can achieve. Going back to Great Britain can sort of revitalise it again.”
Roby has played 30 Tests for England since 2008 and seven matches for the Lions. He debuted for Great Britain in 2006 on the tour against Australia and New Zealand.
The Saints skipper came off the bench in the Lions’ historic 23-12 win over the Kangaroos in Sydney 13 years ago, the last time any British side has beaten Australia.
“It was a big week for us that week,” he remembered.
“I was one of the young lads in the set-up then. We’d had a hammering from the Aussie press so to go into the game and win it was fantastic.
“A real moment for us, and it doesn’t happen that often. I’ve got nothing but fond memories of that tour.”
Roby is one of a number of St Helens players vying for Great Britain selection, including Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Lachlan Coote, Alex Walmsey, Mark Percival and Luke Thompson. The forward believes his Welsh teammates Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles would also not look out of place in a Lions jersey.
“Definitely. They’ve been fantastic for us this year,” Roby said.
“I’d back them to definitely make the grade.”