Phillips back for bench duty

Fit-again scrum-half earns immediate recall

Last Updated: 22/02/10 5:31pm

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Phillips: fast tracked

Phillips: fast tracked

Sky Bet

Wales have included scrum-half Mike Phillips on the bench for Friday's RBS Six Nations meeting with France.

Phillips has played just 40 minutes of rugby in four months due to an ankle injury but has nevertheless been named among the replacements for the Cardiff clash.

The 27-year-old only began his comeback during the Ospreys' narrow Magners League victory over Connacht last Sunday.

But Wales head coach Warren Gatland has wasted no time summoning Phillips into the Test arena, naming him as back-up for Cardiff Blues number nine Richie Rees.

Rees replaces his Cardiff Blues colleague Gareth Cooper in one of four changes and a positional switch following Wales' dramatic 31-24 success against Scotland.

Elsewhere, hooker Huw Bennett takes over from the injured Gareth Williams to complete an entire Ospreys front row, and there is an all-Blues second-row partnership of Bradley Davies and Deiniol Jones, with Jonathan Thomas switching from lock to flanker.

Vacancy

Thomas fills the back-row vacancy created by Andy Powell's axing from the Wales squad after he was charged with drink-driving last week.

Davies, who is currently mourning the death of his mother Cheryl, joins Rees and Jones in making a first Six Nations start.

Jones, 32, first played for Wales in 2000 but only six further caps followed, including two substitute appearances during the 2008 Grand Slam season.

And he has gained Gatland's vote above Newport Gwent Dragons' Luke Charteris and experienced Ospreys forward Ian Gough in an area of the team that required close attention after elbow surgery sidelined Alun-Wyn Jones.

Charteris joins Phillips among the substitutes, with two uncapped players - Scarlets hooker Ken Owens and Saracens prop Rhys Gill - also named as replacements.

Phillips and his fellow Lions scrum-half Dwayne Peel, fit following a groin injury, reported for training on Monday, while Cooper has been released back to the Blues.

Assessing the scrum-half situation, Gatland said: "Richie has played himself into the starting line-up and deserves his chance.

"But, once we had decided on his selection, we couldn't ignore the opportunity to bring Mike Phillips back into the fold.

"It was great to see Mike get a full half for the Ospreys at the weekend and he is someone who can give us a different option from the bench.

"He is a world-class player and he has been champing at the bit to get back to international rugby.

"He may not be 100 percent match fit but he still has probably the best pass in northern hemisphere rugby and is a big physical presence, so we know he won't let us down."

Phillips was hurt during the Ospreys' Heineken Cup victory over Clermont Auvergne on October 18, that setback coming less than four months after he starred for the Lions during their gripping Test series against world champions South Africa.

Potential

As for the second-row selection, Gatland added: "Deiniol has been in very good form for the Blues.

"He has the opportunity to partner his regional colleague Bradley Davies, which should help both players settle in quickly.

"Bradley deserves his chance. He has been around this squad since he was a youngster but he has worked hard and is in great physical shape and has the potential to be a great player.

"We are developing some strength in depth in the second row and Luke Charteris was impressive for the Dragons over the weekend so we will be looking for him to make an impact from the bench if he gets the chance."

Flanker Martyn Williams, meanwhile, moves level with Colin Charvis as Wales' most-capped forward as he prepares to make his 94th Test appearance.

"We know we need to improve on our performance against Scotland," said Gatland.

"We know we will create chances but we need to work hard in defence and improve in that area, as well as concentrate on maintaining discipline.

"Then we need to be clinical and take our points and build in attack. If we can do those things, we know we are in with a chance.

Wales, though, have got it all to do, with France on course for a Grand Slam this season and having won on four of their five previous Six Nations visits to the Millennium Stadium.

Wales: 15 L Byrne (Ospreys), 14 L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), 13 J Hook (Ospreys), 12 J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), 11 S Williams (Ospreys), 10 S Jones (Scarlets), 9 R Rees (Cardiff Blues); 1 P James (Ospreys), 2 H Bennett (Ospreys), 3 A Jones (Ospreys), 4 B Davies (Cardiff Blues), 5 D Jones (Cardiff Blues), 6 J Thomas (Ospreys), 7 M Williams (Cardiff Blues), 8 R Jones (Ospreys, capt)
Replacements: 16 K Owens (Scarlets), 17 R Gill (Saracens), 18 L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), 19 S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), 20 M Phillips (Ospreys), 21 A Bishop (Ospreys), 22 T Shanklin (Ospreys)

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