Parc y Scarlets. Pic: Getty Images.

Llanelli Captain Tom Phillips Hopes His Side Can Stop Ebbw Vale In Their Tracks . . . As He Comes Head To Head With Old Mentor Jason Strange

By Harry Corish

Former Wales under 20’s captain Tom Phillips is looking forward to the test of facing his old mentor, as Llanelli hope to be a stumbling block to Ebbw Vale’s remarkable rise in the Indigo Premiership under the former Wales under 20’s head coach Jason Strange.

Strange chose Phillips to captain his Wales under 20’s side, as they won the Six Nations Grand Slam and the Triple Crown back in 2016. But pleasantries will be set aside tonight, as the pair face up against each other for the first time under the lights of Parc y Scarlets.

Llanelli face an in-form Ebbw Vale side, fresh off the back of a league double over their local rivals Newport on Boxing Day. Whereas, Llanelli have struggled of late, currently sitting ninth after making an impressive start to the season.

The ‘Steelmen’s win against Newport saw Ebbw Vale move into the top four for now, having picked up seven wins from ten, including five wins on the bounce, since losing against Bridgend in October. But Llanelli will be hoping to change that tonight.

Phillips said: “I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and the opportunities I continue to have to work with the Scarlets as a skills coach in the academy.

“I’ve been lucky to play with some great players and play under some great coaches, to be part of that Scarlets model now, helping youngsters coming through is great.

“Coaching is something I am really passionate about. I am learning my trade, but I’ve got great people around me and I have plenty of experience, it has been great so far.

“It was a massive achieve to captain Wales at under 20’s level. I come from a rugby background, the whole family are fanatics, so it was a very proud moment, and a huge achievement, being recognised for that kind of responsibility.

“He (Jason Strange) is a brilliant coach, he was a huge influence on that team at under 20’s. Winning the Six Nations was a huge achievement, he was brilliant. He created such a brilliant culture, during that camp, probably the best I have been involved in.

“You can see his fingerprints all over Ebbw Vale’s success this year, he is a brilliant coach. They are playing some good rugby now. They are throwing the ball around; they have a good kicking game, and their defence has been fantastic.”

While a serious knee injury saw the end to Phillips’ professional career with the Scarlets, the opportunity to captain Llanelli RFC was simply too good to turn down.

The former Scarlets back rower now looks to make his way in the game of rugby, by helping to bring through the next generation of players. He now combines his coaching at the Scarlets academy, with captaining some of the Scarlets youngsters, as they get their first taste of senior rugby in the Indigo Premiership.

“I was brought up in Llanelli, I used to be a ball boy from when I was 12 years old. I’d be selling programmes outside the old Stradey Park, I was brought up on Llanelli rugby,” Phillips added.

“I’m not old yet, I’m still 26 but I do feel a bit older will all these youngsters running about. It’s a huge honour to be captaining my home club.

“The youngsters are building their confidence every game and getting a lot of experience early on. So, from that perspective the model is working very well. But with the results of late, it has been frustrating. We would have liked to have picked a few more points.

“We have missed out on a few opportunities also, but you have to keep positive, and we are seeing some good signs. We are all still learning about how this model works, and we are working towards that golden formula.”

“While it hasn’t always gone our way on occasions this season there have been a lot of positives, with the new approach. It will be a huge challenge for some of the youngsters, but they will be able to take a lot of learning from it.

“If you are looking at the bigger picture, we have a lot of young boys playing, from the Scarlets. For a lot of these boys, it’s their first or second year in senior rugby, it is an inexperienced squad.”

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