Hand­some Mike had some ugly mo­ments

The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

MIKE PHILLIPS has been called many things in his time as be­fit­ting one who of­ten dealt in the out­ra­geous on and off the field. No­body has ever ac­cused him of be­ing modest, an ob­ser­va­tion in­tended not as a crit­i­cism but in praise of his sense of fun.

It was never bet­ter il­lus­trated than dur­ing the early stages of the 2011 World Cup. Wales’ mis­sion­ary trip into the heart of King Coun­try co­in­cided with their scrum-half ’s anoint­ment by a New Zealand mag­a­zine as the best look­ing player of the tour­na­ment.

He did not ex­actly shy away from the sub­ject when we met that day at Wait­omo Rugby club for a pre-ar­ranged in­ter­view. “Oh yes, the right man won al­right,’’ he said. “There are a few jeal­ous boys in the camp, I can tell you, es­pe­cially Jamie Roberts…’’

Rugby’s Brad Pitt, whose ro­mance with pop singer Duffy had ended at about the same time, was al­ways game for a laugh. Another ex­am­ple may have brought an ac­cu­sa­tion of pla­gia­rism from Brian Clough had he been alive to read Phillips claim: “I wouldn’t say I’m the best in the world but I am in the top one.’’

Never the quiet and re­tir­ing type even if he is hang­ing up his boots next month, the farmer’s son from Pem­brokeshire made the of­ten se­ri­ous busi­ness of pro­fes­sional rugby seem like fun even if there were times when it was far from harm­less.

Wales had sus­pended him be­fore the 2011 World Cup af­ter a video of one noc­tur­nal in­ci­dent. Another, in Oc­to­ber 2008, ne­ces­si­tated hos­pi­tal treat­ment and he played no part in any of the four au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als.

Four other scrum-halves played in­stead – Gareth Cooper, War­ren Fury, Dwayne Peel and Mar­tyn Roberts. For one who fin­ished up on 99 Tests for Wales and the Lions, one minute in just one of that au­tumn se­ries as­sumes some significance in ret­ro­spect.

A scrum-half built like a back row for­ward in the mould of his Welsh pre­de­ces­sor, Terry Holmes, Phillips played in two Grand Slam teams, but it hardly jus­ti­fies those who have rushed this past week to ac­claim him as one of the greats.

Phillips was very good but wor­thy of a place among the true greats – Sir Gareth Ed­wards, Dickie Jeeps, Ken Catch­pole, Pierre Ber­bizier, Joost van der Westhuizen and Dave Loveridge, the All Black whose short arm swing and wrist power al­lowed him to per­fect the supreme pass?

Not even Phillips will dis­pute that. If he does, it would be strictly for a laugh.

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