Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Nations 2010: Rees vows to keep Phillips on bench

Phillips made the Wales replacements, even though he has played just 40 minutes of rugby – coming on as a half-time substitute for Ospreys in their narrow victory over Connacht last weekend – in four months following a serious ankle injury sustained against Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup.

The first Rees, who began his senior career with Ospreys before arriving at the Blues via English Premiership club London Irish, where his top-flight career had taken off, knew of Phillips and Dwayne Peel having been called up by Gatland was when the pair turned up at Wales’ Vale of Glamorgan headquarters.

“I didn’t know either of them were coming. When they both walked into the hotel, I thought, ‘here we go!’ If I was selected, I was selected – if not, it wasn’t to be,” he said pragmatically.

“I tried not to think about it. I had an hour or two on tenterhooks until the side was announced.”

Now, having got the nod with doubts surrounding the match fitness and sharpness of Lions Phillips and Peel following their injury-interrupted campaigns, Rees is focusing on facing up to France’s scrum-half hotshot Morgan Parra.

“It’s nice to have them back, but I just try to concentrate on my own game. We will see how Friday goes and then take it from there,” he said.

“The coaches were pretty pleased with what I offered and now I’ve got a start, which is obviously what you want.”

Rees could have his hands full, not only trying to halt France’s Six Nations title and Grand Slam march, but also keeping their new general Parra quiet.

Parra, five years Rees’ junior, delivered majestic displays during victories over Scotland and Ireland, kicking 23 points and frequently tormenting the opposition through his full array of skills.

Rees would like to follow suit, knowing getting the better of Parra would aid him in that quest, and in keeping the challenge of Phillips and Peel at bay.

“Parra’s had a very good start to the Six Nations, to be fair to him,” Rees acknowledged.

“I’ve looked at his last couple of games and I think he controls a lot of what the French do – he is key for them.

“Maybe I have got to try and get in his face a little bit and see where that gets us. It’s my job to do a number on him.”

Whatever happens under the Millennium Stadium floodlights, though, it will be a far cry for Rees from last season’s inaugural Six Nations Friday night Test between France and Wales in Paris.

While Wales fought – and ultimately failed – to preserve their unbeaten Six Nations record under Gatland, Rees was sampling the delights of Edinburgh on tour with Crawshay’s Welsh invitational team.

Wales captain Ryan Jones is backing his former regional colleague to come up trumps against the physical French, saying: “I’m incredibly impressed with Richie.

“It’s an opportunity he has to take with two hands and we are going to support and help him do that the best we can.”

Jones was adamant, if Rees plays well, he could stave off the challenge of Phillips.

“That’s the one thing with Warren, he doesn’t make changes for the sake of it.” Gatland was insistent: “Richie has played himself into the starting line-up.

“He has made a definite impact coming off the bench in the last two games, he has impressed us with the way he has trained and this is a great chance for him.”

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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