"I had to make a choice between rugby and football," says Burnley's long-throw specialist Connor Roberts

Burnley defender Connor Roberts wasn't always destined to become a professional footballer.

By Dan Black
Tuesday, 15th February 2022, 12:12 pm

The Neath-born right back's childhood had suggested that he was more likely to turn out for the Welsh rugby team than the Dragons.

He might well have been lining up against England at Twickenham in the Six Nations next weekend — when the Clarets travel to Crystal Palace — rather than preparing for a FIFA World Cup play-off game against Austria at the Cardiff City Stadium next month.

Roberts had represented his south-western village at fly-half as a twinkle-toed youngster and also played for Crynant, where he was coached by his father.

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Burnley's Welsh defender Connor Roberts (L) vies with Manchester United's English defender Luke Shaw (R) during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Manchester United at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on February 8, 2022.

Even after signing for a couple of junior football teams — Bryncoch and Pontardawe — and joining Swansea City's Youth Academy at the age of nine — he continued to experiment with the oval-shaped ball.

Roberts, who played centre for West Wales at the age of 11, said: "I had to make a choice between rugby and football because I was probably better at rugby, but everyone was massive so I decided to go with football. Luckily it's proven to be a decent choice."

Now armed with a long throw, thanks to the years he dedicated to playing a 'characteristically Welsh' sport, Burnley' s summer signing is hoping that his secret weapon can provide the club with an added threat in the final third.

"I played a lot of rugby when I was growing up and that probably helped," said the 26-year-old. "When I went to Yeovil a few years ago I knew that I had it so I wanted to use it now and again.

Connor Roberts of Burnley battles for possession with Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Burnley and Manchester United at Turf Moor on February 08, 2022 in Burnley, England.

"I think I used it too much during the Watford game because it was so windy. I think if we use it every now and again and switch it up then it can be a good asset for us.

"I think the more I do it and the players in the box realise where it is going then we can hopefully nick a couple of goals from it."

A selection of clubs in the Premier League, in search of that percentage gain in games, have added throw-in coaches to their ranks.

It isn't, however, a niche that is being explored at Burnley's Gawthorpe training base just yet.

"It is not really worked on," said Roberts. "It's just the positioning because it depends on how wet the ball is, the wind, the rain, what players they’ve got, what players we’ve got.

"It is more positioning and who we have forward to affect it. Against Watford the only one was when Tarky won the flick on and it bounced across the six yard box and there was no-one there.

"Maybe, going forward, people will realise that is where they need to be if they want to score goals."