Mike Phillips: The ‘public needs’ Wales to succeed at the Rugby World Cup

Wales team during anthem before the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship round 3 rugby match between Italy and Wales at Olympic Stadium in Rome Credit: Alamy

Wales team during anthem before the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship round 3 rugby match between Italy and Wales at Olympic Stadium in Rome Credit: Alamy

Former British and Irish Lions scrumhalf Mike Phillips has urged Wales to inspire the nation at the Rugby World Cup.

Phillips believes this is Wales’ most important World Cup after the Welsh game spent 2023 in crisis off the field.

A sexism and misogyny scandal at the Welsh Rugby Union has left the Welsh game in dire straits, and on top of that, Warren Gatland is struggling to turn the team’s fortunes.

Gatland led the side to a fourth-place finish in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, losing in the semi-finals to eventual champions South Africa.

The experienced head coach was expected to lead a swift turnaround in 2023 when he returned to take over the side following Wayne Pivac’s departure.

‘The public needs’ Wales to succeed

However, after a disappointing Six Nations campaign, Wales head into their warm-up matches ranked ninth in the world, with hopes of the side performing well at the tournament low.

“It’s more important this time,” former scrum-half Phillips said at S4C’s Rugby World Cup launch ahead of Wales’ forthcoming World Cup campaign.

“The public needs it. It seems that it has just been a constant negative about Welsh rugby over the last 18 months. The public needs some inspiration.

“We all want to support success, just as with the football team reaching the World Cup.

“The Welsh people want to be inspired, and there’s nothing like the national team to galvanise the game, all the way down to the grassroots.

“It would be nice to have people excited about what’s happening on the pitch.”

‘No pressure’

Wales have two warm-up games against England and one with defending champions South Africa ahead of the World Cup.

They will enter the tournament without experienced campaigners Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb, who have all retired from international rugby before World Rugby’s showpiece event.

This means there will be several new faces in the squad, something 99-Test cap Phillips sees as an opportunity.

“There’s no pressure on these players, but my only concern is that they’re not winning often, either for club or country,” he said.

“Winning in sport is tough; it doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you need to grind it out. A few years ago, that’s what they were doing.

“Gatland will have them fit, but the game has moved on from when he was first in charge. There’s far more kicking now, so the tactics need to be spot on; strong defence and discipline is key because games turn on a moment.

“You can’t keep picking the same guys forever. Ideally, you would have a core group with 30 or 40 caps, but we seem to have players either with lots or none.”

Youth leading the way

Phillips hopes that the younger players in the squad will rise to the occasion and likens the current crop of players to Wales’ 2011 World Cup team – that reached the semi-finals, losing agonisingly 9-8 to France after skipper Sam Warburton had been sent off in the opening quarter.

He said: “The youngsters have to learn to become leaders; that’s how they will grow. Perhaps it’s good to throw them in the deep end.

“It feels similar to 2011 when Wales brought in a load of new young players like George North, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton.

“They came back from the World Cup experience and won a Grand Slam, another title, and all went with the Lions in 2013.

“We may not know a lot about these lads now, but they can be household names by the time they return.”

‘Monumental’ World Cup opener

Wales have been drawn in Pool C, where they will face Fiji, Portugal, Australia and Georgia.

Phillips believes that Wales’ opener against Fiji will be crucial as Gatland’s side needs to start the tournament well, but adds that the Pacific Islanders will not be easy to get the better of.

“Fiji is a monumental game,” said Phillips. “Getting that first win gives you momentum and takes a bit of pressure off.

“But Fiji are very physical and athletically they are absolute monsters. They are strong and powerful and seem to have a more tactical game now with their driving maul.

“Their scrum is pretty solid, they play in that Super competition (Super Rugby Pacific franchise Fijian Drua provided 19 of the most recent national squad), and they are going to be tough to break down.”

READ MORE: Leigh Halfpenny hits 100, Jac Morgan to captain Wales against England

The article Mike Phillips: The ‘public needs’ Wales to succeed at the Rugby World Cup appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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