Webb replaces ‘confrontational’ Phillips against France

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Off colour: Warren Gatland admitted he wasn't pleases with Phillips' display against Ireland.

Wales boss Warren Gatland pulled no punches after dropping scrumhalf star Mike Phillips for Friday’s Six Nations clash against France in Cardiff.

Phillips, who has won 82 caps, made his international debut in 2003 and was the British and Irish Lions Test No9 against Australia last summer, will be on the bench for a game Wales must win to keep alive their title hopes.

Phillips makes way for full Test debutant Rhys Webb following Wales’ 26-3 drubbing by Ireland 11 days ago, while wing George North moves to outside centre, Liam Williams wears the No11 shirt and fitagain lock Luke Charteris replaces Andrew Coombs.

“We just felt the team needed a change,” Gatland said. “We weren’t happy with Mike’s performance against Ireland, and we just felt it was an opportunity for Rhys Webb.

“We released Rhys back to the Ospreys on the weekend for some game time, and I thought he played well. It is a great opportunity for him.

“[Phillips] probably just got a little bit confrontational with a oneon- one with (Ireland scrum-half ) Conor Murray, and he was yellowcarded as well towards the end of the game. It is probably an opportunity for him to reflect on his performance. That is why we have put him on the bench and given Rhys a chance.

“The fact that Mike has been probably our first choice for a long time, it is important that we give someone else an opportunity there in that position to stake a claim and give us some depth in that role as well. He [Phillips] always responds well to a challenge, and we are expecting him to put his disappointment behind him a little bit.”

There are many who will feel that double Grand Slam winner Phillips has been made a fall guy for Wales’ heaviest Six Nations loss since 2006.

Others, though, will point to him being largely ineffective during the current Six Nations campaign and that an in-form Webb deserves his chance.

North, whose previous 37 caps were all won as a starting wing, answers a midfield injury SOS.

Gatland is without the services of Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies and Ashley Beck because of injuries, so he faced an apparent choice between North and James Hook to feature alongside Roberts.

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Sport360° view: Phillips has been the architect of his own downfall

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Fresh thinking: Gatland is set on revitalising his Welsh side.

Warren Gatland’s decision to drop Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips to the bench for Friday’s crunch clash with France was absolutely the right one, even if his reasoning seems a little puzzling.

Gatland says he thought the Racing Metro star had been a little too “confrontational” during his side’s defeat to Ireland in Dublin a fortnight ago. Phillips was yellow carded at the Aviva Stadium but if that was the first time the Kiwi thought his No9 had overstepped the mark, then someone should check his eyesight.

Indeed, Gatland favoured Phillips in the early years of his Wales reign precisely because of his physicality. His formative years were spent playing as a flanker and his ability and willingness to take the game to the opposition has, in many ways, epitomised the ‘Warrenball’ that has been played under Gatland.

Like Wales, Phillips has been abrasive, confrontational and direct yet ultimately very, very skilled and effective and the aggressive way in which he plays rugby has at times spilled over off the field. 

He was attacked outside a Cardiff nightclub in 2008, put his 2011 World Cup participation in jeopardy with an incident at a fast food restaurant and even after moving to France has seen controversy follow not far behind as he was released by Bayonne after turning up to an analysis session worse for wear.

Coming on the eve of last autumn’s internationals, his sacking in the south of France raised the question of whether Wales could cope without him.

In the four months since the answer has been a resounding yes.

It is one thing to indulge a player when he is playing well but when he is out of form behavioural problems become an unwanted nuisance, and in truth, Phillips has not been at his best for at least a year now.

Never the quickest at the breakdown, his delivery from the base of scrums and mauls has become so pedestrian that he has managed to incorporate a trademark short grab as he surveys his options.

The 31-year-old’s arrogance remains intact but that ultimately has proven to be his downfall.

The way he acted against Ireland was distasteful and the childish nature in which he goaded One Direction singer Niall Horan after the game was just boorish.

Moreover, Rhys Webb deserves his chance to start against the French.

It was his rise to prominence at the Ospreys that edged Phillips out the door at the Liberty Stadium and on to France, and the 25-year-old is a man in form.

Released to his region last weekend he warmed up for Les Bleus with a try in a club record 75-7 rout against Benetton Treviso.

This is not it for Phillips – he has been dropped by Gatland before – but it could well be the beginning of the end for Wales’ most-capped scrum-half.

Burgess has character to succeed

Sam Burgess confirmed his long awaited switch from rugby league to Bath, and potentially England, this week and if anyone is going to make a success of the move it is him.

Burgess’ signing was greeted with fervour by England fans, many of whom have already got him in their World Cup squads.

But for every Jason Robinson or Sonny Bill Williams who have lit up both codes, there is a player who failed to live up to expectations.

Burgess need only look at his future team-mate in the south-west of England, Kyle Eastmond, to see how hard it can be to impose yourself in another code.

However, Burgess brings with him an amazing amount of potential. He has the size, strength and fleet of foot to become a star in his new surroundings. 

Perhaps more importantly the 25-year-old has also proved he has character in abundance on and off the field.

When he made his professional debut for the Bradford Bulls, at 17, he was caring for his terminally ill father Mark. When his dad passed away, aged just 45, Burgess did not crumble. Instead he relocated to Australia with South Sydney, taking his whole family – he now plays for the NRL club alongside his three brothers.

If he approaches his new challenge with anywhere near the same dedication, Stuart Lancaster better clear a space in that World Cup squad.

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Lancaster left unsatisfied despite England’s domination

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Pulling away: England's Owen Farrell was once again instrumental.

Stuart Lancaster admitted England’s 20-0 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield should have been more comfortable.

Tries from Mike Brown and Luther Burrell helped dispatch feeble opposition and thrust England back into Six Nations title contention.

Lancaster was pleased with a highly-effective performance that kept Scotland pointless for the first time since 1978, but accepted that more tries should have been scored.

“We were pleased with a lot of aspects, but are frustrated that we didn’t convert more of our opportunities because we dominated the second half,” the head coach said. “There were chances there that we didn’t take and we definitely have regrets over the points we left out there.

“We played some really good stuff in difficult conditions. Scotland had to defend desperately.”

The centre partnership of Billy Twelvetrees and Burrell impressed for a second weekend in succession and Lancaster was delighted by their contribution.

“The work that (coaches) Andy Farrell and Mike Catt have done with Luther and Billy is really paying off,” Lancaster said. “The timing and number of options going into the line were excellent and Luther’s try was a good case in point.

“They’re going well as a partnership, especially given that they’ve only trained together for two weeks and have played twice."

For Scotland, it was another day to forget. Their guests enjoyed 65 per cent of the second-half possession and it was little surprise England were able to turn down many of the 16 penalties they won in favour of chasing an extra try.

Interim head coach Scott Johnson took some consolation from the fact that just two touchdowns were conceded, but the Australian could not hide from his side’s failings.

Johnson said: “It was extremely frustrating. I’ve got a sore neck from looking down one end of the field for the entire second half.

“We wanted to turn them a little bit. We didn’t want to let them have too many line-outs in our half. As it turned out they had 16 in our 22. It didn’t work out.”

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