Handsome Mike had some ugly moments
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.