Howley wants Phillips 'back to his best'
January 16, 2013
Wales' Mike Phillips was named in their squad for the Six Nations on Tuesday © PA Photos
Phillips is currently turning out in the Top 14 for Bayonne but has struggled to find the same sort of incisiveness that saw him earn British & Irish Lions Test caps in 2009 and then helped Wales to the Grand Slam in 2012. And Howley, who unveiled his squad for the Six Nations on Tuesday, accepts there is a need to "get Mike back to his best".
"Mike is back playing to some level - he needs to get to the next level, to where he was," Howley said. "He has gone away to France, and I have tried to give him some stats in terms of the brand and type of rugby they are playing.
"When he plays for us, he makes 60 or 70 passes a game. In France, it's 20-25, so that puts pressure on his conditioning. Mike has been told. On his day, when he is fit and confident, Mike is probably one of the best number nines in the northern hemisphere. We need to get Mike back to his best.
"He has got pressure (in the Wales squad) with Tavis Knoyle and Lloyd Williams, but you would like to think, if Mike is back to his best, he's got a huge part to play in our performances in the Six Nations."
Wales, meanwhile, will not be afraid to unleash the express pace of uncapped Ospreys wing sensation Eli Walker on this season's Six Nations. Howley believes 20-year-old Walker "absolutely poses a challenge" to establish Wales strike-runners George North and Alex Cuthbert, who have scored 16 Test tries between them.
Despite making only 27 starts during his fledgling Ospreys career, Walker has thrilled audiences across Europe through dazzling footwork and blistering speed. Howley added: "Eli absolutely poses a challenge to George and Alex. He is there for competition. He is the in-form winger in the UK at this moment."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Women's World Cup, the opening round of the Top 14 and the Rugby Championship