Mike Phillips

Mike Phillips (right) alongside fellow S4C World Cup pundits Rhys Patchell (l) and Rhys Priestland. Pic: S4C

Spikey Mike Phillips Insists Wales Can Puncture Predictions Of World Cup Woe If They Find Belief

Dragon Bet image 2

By Graham Thomas

Mike Phillips played at two World Cup tournaments and believes the key to success is self-belief – not a quality in which he was ever really found wanting.

But the former Wales scrum-half – who seemed to swagger his way through big matches – believes Warren Gatland can still build some of that conviction, even though many people have already dismissed their chances of success in France next month.

Approaching his 41st birthday, Phillips still looks fit and strong enough to do a decent job on the field. Instead, he will bring his sharp features – and sharper wit – into the S4C pundits’ chair as part of their team for Welsh language coverage.

Fellow studio talking heads Rhys Priestland and Rhys Patchell will be good, but it’s Spikey Mike who will attract most attention – a Welsh rugby Roy Keane who’s unafraid to go in hard, but who will also throw out the memorable one-liners.

He played in the disastrous Welsh campaign of 2007, where Gareth Jenkins’ Wales went out in the pool stages after losing to Fiji, and was there in 2011 in New Zealand, where Wales reached the semi-finals.

“Warren Gatland trained us hard in 2011 and he was constantly drumming into us that we were going to win the games in the last 15 minutes because of our fitness,” says Phillips, who now divides his time between Wales and Dubai.

“Psychologically, he was playing games, but it worked because you worked your socks off and that belief seemed to galvanise us in those later periods.

“This time, if we can get through the group stage, we will probably play England and we know we can beat England. We should have beaten them in the last Six Nations, but our preparations weren’t the best.

“It’s all there for these boys. It’s there for the taking if they believe in themselves and grab the opportunity.”

A quarter-final victory over England would put Wales into another semi-final, a target most pundits would say is beyond the reach of a team now ranked ninth in the world and who finished fifth in the Six Nations.

For Phillips, the current dire state of the game in Wales – with players leaving the domestic game and wage levels tumbling in the face of a financial crisis – means positivity and optimism has to be grasped as an antidote to the gloom and despondency.

“It seems that it has just been a constant negative about Welsh rugby over the last 18 months. The public needs some inspiration,” he adds.

“We all want to support success, just as with the football team reaching the World Cup. The Welsh people want to be inspired, and there’s nothing like the national team to galvanise the game, all the way down to the grassroots.

“It would be nice to have people excited about what’s happening on the pitch.”

Wales have two warm-up games against England and one with defending champions South Africa ahead of the World Cup.

They will enter the tournament without experienced campaigners Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb, who have all retired from international rugby before World Rugby’s showpiece event.

This means there will be several new faces in the squad, something 99-Test cap Phillips sees as an opportunity.

“There’s no pressure on these players, but my only concern is that they’re not winning often, either for club or country,” he says.

“Winning in sport is tough; it doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you need to grind it out. A few years ago, that’s what they were doing.

“Gatland will have them fit, but the game has moved on from when he was first in charge. There’s far more kicking now, so the tactics need to be spot on; strong defence and discipline is key because games turn on a moment.

“You can’t keep picking the same guys forever. Ideally, you would have a core group with 30 or 40 caps, but we seem to have players either with lots or none.”

Embed from Getty Images

Phillips hopes that the younger players in the squad will rise to the occasion and likens the current crop of players to Wales’ 2011 World Cup team – that lost agonisingly 9-8 to France after skipper Sam Warburton had been sent off in the opening quarter.

“The youngsters have to learn to become leaders; that’s how they will grow. Perhaps it’s good to throw them in the deep end.

“It feels similar to 2011 when Wales brought in a load of new young players like George North, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton.

“They came back from the World Cup experience and won a Grand Slam, another title, and all went with the Lions in 2013.

“We may not know a lot about these lads now, but they can be household names by the time they return.”

Wales have been drawn in Pool C, where they will face Fiji, Portugal, Australia and Georgia.

There Will Be No Holding Back Against England . . . Josh Adams Admits Wales Must Hit Their Straps

Phillips believes that Wales’ opener against Fiji will be crucial as Gatland’s side needs to start the tournament well, but adds that the Pacific Islanders will not be easy to get the better of.

“Fiji is a monumental game. Getting that first win gives you momentum and takes a bit of pressure off.

“But Fiji are very physical and athletically they are absolute monsters. They are strong and powerful and seem to have a more tactical game now with their driving maul.

“Their scrum is pretty solid, they play in that Super competition (Super Rugby Pacific franchise Fijian Drua provided 19 of the most recent national squad), and they are going to be tough to break down.”

S4C will broadcast live every Wales game at the Rugby World Cup in France.

Their live coverage will start with the opening match between hosts France and New Zealand.

S4C will then follow Warren Gatland’s team through the tournament and will show live a quarter-final, a semi-final, the third placed play-off, and the final from the Stade de France in Paris.

Wales Hooker Ryan Elias Plans Major Strike Against The Head When England Come Calling

Dragon Bet image 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *