Phillips relishing Springbok battle
June 26, 2009
Mike Phillips scored the Lions' third try in the first Test © AFP
British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips is gearing up for another crack at South Africa in the second Test in Pretoria, and is expecting another fierce confrontation after engaging in some verbal, as well as physical, barbs with the Springboks last weekend.
Phillips scored the Lions' third try in their second-half comeback and while his team fell short of the mark he is not short of confidence heading in to what should be a tumultuous game at Loftus Versfeld. One thing that the Lions will have to counter is the self-belief present in the Springbok ranks - Phillips believing that attack is the best form of defence.
"The South Africans are very confident - they totally believe in their team - and you can't take a backward step against them," he said. "You have got to get in their faces and meet fire with fire. There was a bit of banter out there last Saturday, but I enjoy the confrontation and the chat. It just gets me even more up for it, more focused and switched-on."
Phillips was engaged in a running verbal battle with Springboks lock Bakkies Botha, who is not renowned for taking a backward step.
"I think Bakkies fancies me!" he said. "He was going on about my sexy blue eyes, or something - I think he was trying to put me off my game. To be honest, I didn't have a comment back. The respect was certainly there for each other, though."
The Lions fell 19 points behind their hosts last weekend, a lead that they cannot afford to give away at altitude in Pretoria. Despite their frailties in the forwards however, Phillips was buoyed by their backs play and fighting spirit.
"Ball in hand, we were far better (than South Africa), and we battled right to the end," he said. "We felt as if we played all the rugby. If we had lost by 40 points, then fair enough, but we played all the rugby and came close.
"We've got to put things right this weekend. We've got another opportunity, and we have to believe in ourselves. I think we can do it. We've got to win this game to keep the series going. We are desperate to get out there again and prove to everyone we are a quality outfit. The intensity of that first Test was massive, but I thought we were comfortable out there. The occasion didn't get to any of us, and we were bitterly disappointed not to come away with the win.
"I felt we got better and better as the game went on - we became more confident. We came so close, and I thought we were going to come back and win. We showed great heart. Unfortunately, we crossed the line a couple of times but we didn't quite get the ball down. When you are playing the best team in the world, you have got to take the opportunities.
"We will be looking to work South Africa really hard again. I thought they were blowing at times last Saturday. It's all about hard work, going through our patterns and breaking the opposition down."
And if the Lions are to end a run of six successive Test defeats on tour, then Phillips' battle with opposite number Fourie du Preez could prove a decisive individual contest.
"Du Preez is a World Cup winner and an excellent player," he said. "He was very sharp last week, and it is great to be competing against high-quality players.
"He's a running threat and a very confident guy. He does dictate things, so it is very important to put pressure on him. If he has a poor game on Saturday, it would be a great help for us. There is no time or space on the field in games like this. You are playing against the best and you have got to make decisions very quickly. They are looking to put pressure on you at all times."
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor