Phipps leads mighty defensive effort
July 27, 2014
The Waratahs' defence was outstanding against the Brumbies © Getty Images
Nick Phipps modestly claimed he "voted 15 times" after winning the players' player award from the New South Wales Waratahs' gritty Super Rugby semi-final triumph over the Brumbies. In reality, the heroic scrum-half probably polled one vote for every try-saving tackle he pulled off in the 26-8 victory at Allianz Stadium.
As the Brumbies laid siege to the Waratahs' try line for most of a desperately tense second half, Phipps was everywhere, his copybook cover tackles on Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Fardy, in particular, symbolising his side's courage in defence.
"His work rate is phenomenal. He had a brilliant game around that part," said coach Michael Cheika. "The team recognised that definitely. He got the accolades afterwards as the players' man of the match."
Phipps tried to deflect the praise, saying his desperate scrambling was merely a job order from defensive coach and former Waratahs hardman Nathan Grey.
"I'm required to make those tackles in the second line of defence," he said. "Our boys were making big shots in close so I guess it was up to us little blokes out wide to make the big ones as well."
Waratahs 28-6 Brumbies (Australia only)
Despite the flattering end scoreline, the match was in the balance as the Brumbies camped inside the NSW red zone for some 25 minutes while the Waratahs clung to a 16-8 lead.
"That's definitely our best defensive effort of the season. It was one of the most intense matches I've ever played," Phipps said after the Waratahs booked a final showdown with the Crusaders next Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. "It was good that we were able to weather that storm and we know that there's an even bigger storm coming."
With incredible strike power in their backline, the Waratahs boast the most potent attack in the competition. But this year, they also own the best defensive record and Cheika said he deliberately appointed Grey to transform the Tahs into genuine title contenders.
"He's brought that hard steel," Phipps said. "We all grew up watching 'Greysy' when were young blokes, so we know that he's got that absolutely uncompromising style of rugby and we love that and that really filters onto the rest of the players."
In a team of heroes, flanker Michael Hooper was also outstanding in defence and Cheika said the captain's "ridiculous work rate" was infectious.
"Obviously why he's good at it is because he just loves it. He just loves getting in there and getting dirty and working hard and that's quite contagious," Cheika said. "Once one or two or three and four guys start doing it, everyone else starts catching the bug."