Phillips: Wales must believe
May 18, 2010
Mike Phillips is expecting big things from Scarlets youngster Tavis Knoyle © Getty Images
Mike Phillips believes that confidence will be key to Wales' hopes of claiming the scalp of one of the southern hemisphere's super-powers this summer.
Warren Gatland's men host South Africa in Cardiff on June 5 before travelling to New Zealand for two Tests against the All Blacks, in Dunedin on June 19 and Hamilton seven days later. Phillips is relishing the prospect of taking on the two strongest sides in international rugby, not least because the Ospreys scrum-half thinks Wales' chances of upsetting the odds have been significantly boosted by the inclusion of a number of precocious young talents in the touring party.
Indeed, the Phillips, who starred on last summer's British & Irish Lions Tour of South Africa, has been particularly impressed by the attitude of Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, who is ready to embark on his first international tour.
"He's quick and strong and pretty self confident and he needs to hold onto that in particular," Phillips said. "I'll be saying to Tavis and the others that they have to continue to believe in themselves. Warren does, that's why they are here and he's proved over many years that he's a pretty good judge of these things.
"We are sometimes very quick to put others up on a pedestal in Welsh rugby, and South Africa will bring some real talent to the party whichever squad they pick, but we have some great players too and a good mix of youngsters now who will maybe bring some of that extra confidence of youth with them.
"The last time many of us played South Africa we came away with a win and we know in the second Test with the Lions we probably should have won as well. But, in all fairness, the Springboks won the series and there is no doubting they will be an incredibly tough prospect.
"We were very disappointed in South Africa and it's great to get the opportunity to play them again, but we deserve to go into the game with some real confidence. It's not about arrogance, but about belief in ourselves as players. In Wales we are very good at building opposition teams up, but we have not been so good in the past at backing ourselves.
"But we have a core of players here who have been playing well and improving for two or three years - or even four or five - and we know we have the ability so why shouldn't we be confident. As Warren says we have to believe we can win, even if we just change our national character a bit for those 80 minutes and turn it on then, that will be enough. The belief must be and will be there."
Knoyle, for his part, admitted that his call-up took him by surprise but he is now planning to make the most of his unexpected opportunity to tour with Wales by learning as much as he possibly can from Phillips in the coming weeks.
"Mike Phillips has been my favourite player, I've played against him, he's been my idol and he's the player I've always looked at and wanted to be like," the 19-year-old said. "I've got the greatest respect for him and I've got to try and nick some things from him and concentrate. He's a great player and playing alongside someone like him will be fantastic.
"It was a great shock when the text message came through telling me I was to be called up and it goes to show how much the Scarlets believe in the youngsters, and giving youngsters a chance to go. Moving out of the Ospreys region to the Scarlets was a big move at the time, but it was an easy decision to be honest with you because there was a lot of competition for the position at the Ospreys.
"The Scarlets have been absolutely great to me since I joined, Nigel (Davies) promised me that I'd be part of this team and that I'd get game time and that is exactly what has happened. I've had to work hard for it, when I came down here I needed to shed a few pounds which I did with the conditioning team and I've learnt a lot of things already - I want to get as much on board as quickly as possible.
"Being involved this season and playing with the Scarlets has been great for me and once you've had a taste of it, you want it all the time and you get annoyed if you don't play well."
Knoyle, of course, is not the only uncapped Scarlets player in the Welsh squad, with Rob McCusker and Ken Owens also having been included in the 27-strong panel. McCusker is determined to make a big impact after failing to make the squad for last summer's tour of the USA and Canada after being called into the initial training camp.
"It will be a huge challenge out in New Zealand, playing against the All Blacks and against the Boks in the Millennium Stadium, but I'm looking forward to it and hopefully I'll get some game time," said McCusker.
"Having been picked last year in the tour party and then left out at the last minute it was hard to take. It was difficult having to go into training for that week with the boys knowing that I wasn't touring with them but I used it to my advantage. It made me work harder in training and was an incentive going into the season just gone. I didn't really think about being selected this year too much so it was a good surprise."
Owens, meanwhile, is thrilled at being drafted back into the Wales squad after featuring only as an unused replacement in this year's Six Nations campaign.
"Not getting off the bench in the Championship has just spurred me on - it definitely makes you hungrier for a cap and from where I was at the start of the year, second choice for the Scarlets, and then to get on to the bench for an international is huge and has definitely made me hungrier and I just want to keep working harder to get there," he said.
"It would be nice to get on the pitch over the summer, but I've got to take what comes and work hard in the training camps and try and make an impression. I'll be going out there and giving it everything, getting involved and trying to get on the pitch.
"I've had being able to have so much game time. I've enjoyed everything this season and hopefully I'll come back and keep pushing on with that extra experience from the tour.
"The important thing for any player is consistency and the only way you can achieve that is to play week in week out. It's been great to have a run of games with the Scarlets and that has help improve the consistency in my game this season."