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Why Jason Robinson has gone back to his roots to help Jamaica's rugby league Reggae Warriors

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 19/10/2019 Ross Heppenstall
Jason Robinson holding a football ball: Jason Robinson had great success for England in both rugby codes - PA © PA Jason Robinson had great success for England in both rugby codes - PA

Jason Robinson is universally regarded as the greatest cross-code player of all time and won a combined 75 caps for England, Great Britain and the British and Irish Lions.

It is perhaps only now that the legendary former winger has reconciled himself with his true heritage, which is rooted in Scotland and Jamaica, despite a Yorkshire upbringing.

It also explains why Robinson has become a driving force behind Jamaica’s national rugby league team, who face England Knights at Headingley on Sunday in his home city of Leeds.

Watch: Don't compare current crop to 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning squad, warns Wikinson (Sky Sports)

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Robinson’s mother is Scottish and his biological father William Thorpe, a Jamaican living in Leeds, abandoned him before he was born.

As Robinson recounted in harrowing detail in his 2003 autobiography, he grew up in some of Leeds’s toughest districts with a violent stepfather who would beat his mother. The scars of that childhood will probably never fully heal but nine years ago Robinson met his father for the first time.

“I played for England throughout my career but I’m actually half-Jamaican and half-Scottish,” says the 45-year-old, who became Jamaica's joint operations director earlier this year.

“I was brought up as a Scot, my mum was Scottish, and I didn’t know my dad. I grew up in Harehills and Chapeltown, quite deprived parts of Leeds with a Caribbean community, and I look at my journey now after doing some amazing things in rugby.

“If I could achieve what I did then how many more kids could there be from these areas who have a talent and may even get into rugby league?

“Being involved with Jamaica is great for me because as a young lad I looked at guys like Ellery Hanley and if you’re a black kid and you see a black man in a team then it’s something you can relate to.

“My dad wasn’t there for me but it’s important that I pass my family heritage on to my kids. I said to the missus ‘we need to get to Jamaica’ because the fact I’m 45 and have never been there is ridiculous really.

“Getting involved with the rugby league team is a personal thing and also something I feel I have to give back to.

“I am one of quite a few people within the Jamaican set-up who needs to explore that. There is an emotional connection there for us all which is important.”

Thorpe still lives in West Yorkshire, as does Robinson, who says: “Do I see my dad now? Not that much to be fair, but I’m sort of fine with that. There are some things that are maybe not meant to be on a level that you want, so that’s fine.

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“One of the key things for me was meeting him and I’ve kind of answered a lot of things in my own head, which has helped me to move on.

“I never had him in my life for 36 years, so if you’ve never had that then you’ve never been reliant upon it. Things change and things might change for the better. You just never know do you?”

Robinson is still feted for his World Cup-winning exploits in rugby union with England in 2003 but he made his name in rugby league, where his focus now lies.

He took up a position on Super League's newly-created Man of Steel panel earlier this year and the role with Jamaica soon followed.

The Reggae Warriors secured a place in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, to be staged on these shores, with a famous win against the United States in Jacksonville last autumn.

Robinson has spent this week helping to promote the emerging nation’s league profile in the inner-city communities of Leeds where he was raised.

He adds: “We have gone into community and said ‘these guys have qualified for the World Cup in 2021. Come and get behind us, come and watch us and see what rugby league is all about’.

“Can you imagine what Jamaica will bring to the World Cup when it comes around - the carnival, the colour and the music?

“One of our targets next year is to take the boys to Jamaica and help strengthen the game over there by playing and coaching.”

Around 2,000 free tickets are being provided for under-privileged families from Leeds so they can experience a match live at Headingley, where a crowd in excess of 5,000 is expected.

The Knights, England's second-tier side, are expected to win but Romeo Monteith's Jamaica can call on several Super League players with Jamaican heritage such as Ben Jones-Bishop, Ashton Golding and Michael Lawrence.

Resources remain relatively scarce but momentum behind the Reggae Warriors is growing.

Robinson adds: “It’s not a Cool Runnings story where everybody is having a laugh. We want to win games and build towards the World Cup. That starts on Sunday against England Knights.”

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