Lions halves back in action

Mike Phillips and James Hook will return to domestic action this evening, nine weeks after flying home from this summer's Lions tour of South Africa. [more]

Lions halves back in action

Mike Phillips and James Hook will return to domestic action this evening, nine weeks after flying home from this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa.

The Ospreys halfbacks cut impressive figures during the 10-match tour of the Republic, with Phillips starting all three Tests against the Springboks and Hook producing a match-winning performance against the Cheetahs.

While the majority of other Lions tourists have been given more time off to recover from their exploits, this Welsh duo are set to feature in their region’s first Magners League game of the new season.

Phillips is down to start tonight’s clash with Connacht, while Hook has been named as a replacement for the Ospreys’ trip to the Sportsground in Galway.

And despite being called upon earlier than expected, both players insist they are desperate to step on to a rugby pitch again.

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"I’m pleased to be back. I’ve enjoyed pre-season and it’s nice to be able to get straight back into the swing of things,” said Phillips, who takes over from Jamie Nutbrown in the Ospreys No9 shirt after the New Zealander injured a finger in the build up to the match.

“I’m a professional rugby player and I’m paid to do a job that I love, so every opportunity you get to play is pretty special. I’d much rather be out there playing again on Friday night than sitting at home.”

Phillips, who was one of Ian McGeechan’s star men against the world champions, says he is fit and raring to go regardless of a what was clearly a busier than normal summer.

"I was never given a strict return date and wasn’t targeting a particular game, but I think I would have been involved somewhere along the line in the second or third game whatever happened,” added the former Scarlets and Blues scrum-half.

"After the coaches spoke to me about being involved on Friday I’ve been full of it. I just can’t wait to play rugby again – it’s what I do. I think I’m in pretty good nick and I feel ready to play again.

"I’ve enjoyed my time off, had a good holiday and charged the batteries, but I’m not the kind to just shut off for too long which is why I’m raring to go now. I’m excited about playing again. I’ve done all my fitness work, now it’s about game time."

And the same goes for the 24-year-old Hook, who was called up as a replacement on the eve of the Lions’ departure for South Africa and did his reputation no harm in one of the world’s toughest rugby environments.

“I’m at the stage now where I’m hitting the fitness targets so I’m just as well being involved in the game as sticking to training,” said Hook.

“Now I can concentrate on getting my match fitness and sharpness where it should be. You can train all you want but there’s nothing like getting match time under your belt so I’m looking forward to pulling on the Ospreys shirt and getting out there again at some stage.

“I know that it’s one thing being eager to play and it’s another actually being fit enough, but the coaching team are happy with my condition and feel that it’s in my best interests to be playing again, and if I’m honest, I can’t wait. There’s nothing worse than being wrapped in cotton wool.”

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