MIKE Phillips has been backed to put a torrid few weeks behind him and deliver the goods for Wales against South Africa today.
The Wales scrum-half makes his first playing appearance in more than a month after being suspended and then sacked by French club Bayonne for allegedly turning up drunk at a video analysis session.
Phillips has said he intends to take legal action against his former employers, but he is currently without a club as Wales prepare to face their opening autumn opponents. The reigning RBS Six Nations champions, though, have no qualms about 77-times-capped Phillips’ mental and physical state ahead of the Millennium Stadium Springboks showdown.
“We can expect a good solid performance from Mike,” Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde said. “He has probably got to prove his worth. However, there is no better big-match player than Mike Phillips. We’ve seen that in the past.
“When he needs to deliver the goods, he comes up trumps, and I don’t expect it to be any different on Saturday. He is vocal, he is confident and he has got a spring in his step. I have been impressed with him.”
Phillips will be key to Wales’ bid for only a second victory against one of rugby union’s southern hemisphere giants – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – since coach Warren Gatland took charge five years ago.
While Wales have won three Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final during that time, their record against the so-called ‘big three’ has been abysmal.
South Africa captain Jean de Villiers has predicted “a fierce battle”. De Villiers and company will protect an immense South African record against Wales – 24 wins from 26 starts – and they have arrived in Cardiff battle-hardened from a Rugby Championship campaign that saw them finish second behind World Cup holders New Zealand.
The Springboks, who will head to Edinburgh next week to prepare for their clash against Scotland on Sunday, won four of their six games and scored 23 tournament tries, while ten players that started an epic title decider against New Zealand will face Wales this weekend.
“We are well-prepared,” said De Villiers, who resumes his long and successful midfield partnership with a recalled Jaque Fourie. “This team has come a long way in the last couple of months. I think we’ve improved drastically in certain areas and hopefully we can take that into this game. Obviously, we didn’t end the Championship on a high (New Zealand won 38-27 in Johannesburg), but there were a lot of positives to be taken out of that game.”
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), Liam Williams (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (unattached); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). Subs: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Perpignan), J Tipuric (Ospreys) Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), A Beck (Ospreys).
South Africa: P Lambie (Sharks); JP Pietersen (Panasonic Wild Knights), J Fourie (Kobe Steelers), J de Villiers (Western Province, capt), B Habana (Toulon); M Steyn (Blue Bulls), F du Preez (Suntory); T Mtawarira (Sharks), B du Plessis (Sharks), F Malberhe (Western Province), E Etzebeth (Western Province), F van der Merwe (Blue Bulls), F Louw (Bath), W Alberts (Sharks), D Vermeulen (Western Province). Subs: A Strauss (Cheetahs), G Steenkamp (Toulouse), C Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), P du Toit (Sharks), S Kolisi (Western Province), R Pienaar (Ulster), JJ Engelbrecht (Blue Bulls), W le Roux (Cheetahs).
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