Welsh giant can be Lions catalyst

Mike Phillips can be the main catalyst for the British & Irish Lions in their bid to beat the Springboks in the three Test Castle Lager Series. [more]

Welsh giant can be Lions catalyst

Mike Phillips can be the main catalyst for the British & Irish Lions in their bid to beat the Springboks in the three Test Castle Lager Series.

That’s the view of the man rated as the greatest player of all-time, ex Wales and Lions legend Gareth Edwards, who tormented the South African’s with his play at the heels of the Lions pack in 1974.

“I think Mike can be the catalyst for a famous Lions victory. It has taken him a while to come back from what was a career threatening injury, but he is hitting peak form at just the right time,” said Edwards, an HSBC Ambassador.

“I got an armchair ride back in 1974 and that allowed me to play on my toes, rather than back on my heels. If this Lions side can put Mike Phillips on the front foot then he could cause mayhem.

“Mike showed his real strengths against the Sharks and he’s certainly the best of the three scrum halves out here. He showed he is back to his best form with that superb try against the Sharks and, just before half-time, he paved the way for Lee Mears to score.

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“He is more than pencilled into the team and I expect him to start with Stephen Jones, the in form outside half, outside him. He still needs to work on his service a little bit, but he is shaping up to be a real threat to the Boks. They are showing the sharpness that is required of a Test team.”

But while Edwards is a keen admirer of the 6’3”, 16st 6lbs Phillips, he also concedes that the Ospreys No 9 will be coming up against the best scrum half currently in the world game, Fourie du Preez.

“Mike still has to fine tune areas of his game, while du Preeez is an experienced operator who knows the game inside out. He has more nous as an international scrum half than Mike,” added Edwards.

“Scrum half is an area where the Boks always want to dominate you physically. Mike’s going to love the battle with Fourie and their back row.

“The two scrum halves have the same sort of temperament and they’ll be going at each other hammer and tongs. But I know that Mike can stand up to that kind of pushing and shoving around and not be intimidated.

“He’s going to be a marked man – you always are whoever you are at scrum half in South Africa – because he has shown he is a dangerous player and potent attacker.

“They are going to try every trick in the book to put him off his game, but he has to stay calm and keep his discipline. They are going to try to psyche him out from the start.”

Edwards helped the 1974 Lions to win the first Test in Cape Town in 1974 with a dropped goal and he knows just how vital it is to win the opening game of the series. Saturday’s game in Durban is a must win match for Paul O’Connell’s Lions.

“It is important to win on Saturday because the first test in any series is always vital. Psychologically it was a big step for us in 1974 and it was the same for Martin Johnson’s side in 1997,” said Edwards.

“When we won that first Test in Cape Town it really made us believe we could go on and win the series. We’d won every game up until then, but we’d had a narrow squeak against Western Province and been pushed hard in some other games.

“The Lions were under huge pressure in 1997, but they held fast and put the Boks on the back foot for the rest of the series by winning in Cape Town. It was Neil Jenkins’ boot that kept them in touch and it really was a bit like a bank raid by the Lions that day in Cape Town.

“Everyone is talking about the Boks being the favourites, but they have only just got together and it is going to take them time to blend.

“The Lions need to match them physically and be a bit for collective at the breakdown. We know how good some of their forwards are – Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield and John Smit – and the Lions will have to match them.

“But if they can give Mike Phillips the kind of service I got in 1974 then he is just the man for the occasion.”

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