One of the stars of the 2009 Lions tour has spoken of his delight at finally being back on the international stage.
Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips was one of the standout performers for Britain and Ireland’s elite last summer but he has since endured an injury-riddled season to date.
The Ospreys No9 started all three Tests for Ian McGeechan’s tourists and returned from South Africa with a deserved reputation as one of the two best scrum-halves in the world.
But the high of touring with the Lions was soon replaced by the low of serious injury as Phillips damaged ankle ligaments that kept him out of action from October until February.
Phillips missed all four of his country’s autumn internationals against New Zealand, Samoa, Argentina and Australia, as well as the opening two rounds of the Six Nations against England and Scotland.
The 27-year-old was recalled to the squad for the clash with France despite having only played 40 minutes of rugby for the Ospreys but he didn’t get on to the field during the 26-20 defeat in Cardiff.
Injury again forced Phillips out of the Round 4 loss in Ireland before he eventually won a 39th cap by starting the 33-10 win over Italy at the weekend.
And unsurprisingly given the frustrations of his season so far, Phillips admitted wearing a Welsh shirt again was a particularly rewarding moment.
“I really enjoyed it. The Lions was a great experience but it was great to be back involved with the squad and team,” said Phillips.
“It was nice to have a start as it has been frustrating watching the Six Nations on television.
“It was important for me to come back and show what I can do. I have been working really hard and always focussed on returning. I felt really fit and strong.”
Having made it clear that he wanted to make an impression, Phillips did just that.
Whereas most critics expected him to give the kind of low-profile performance normally associated with players coming back from lengthy absences, Phillips did just the opposite.
He was one of the game’s brightest attacking threats and proved a constant danger to the Italian defence.
Phillips gave Wales plenty of momentum and was one of the reasons the Welsh backs found themselves on the front foot so often.
“I wanted to lift the tempo and bring experience to the rest of the lads. We wanted to be positive as a team,” added Phillips.
“The first 20-30 minutes were tough but we knew we could break them down.
“It’s been frustrating watching the Six Nations and it’s great to be involved again.
“It’s been a frustrating season for Wales. On the whole the campaign has been disappointing. But it’s nice to finish on a high with some confidence and great to get a win.
“Playing for Wales is always a dream come true.”