Phillips: Welsh optimism key to beat NZ

(IRB.COM) Saturday 12 June 2010
By Tracey Porter
From Santa Fe
 
 Phillips: Welsh optimism key to beat NZ
Kristian Phillips is not underestimating the threat of the Baby Blacks - Photo: Jano Colcerniani/IRB


Wales wing Kristian Phillips believes it doesn't take a genius to work out who New Zealand's danger men are ahead of their must-win Pool A decider with the two-time defending champions at the IRB Junior World Championship 2010.

"The ones numbered one to 15" is how Phillips summed up the threats of the Baby Blacks who have not lost a match in the tournament's three-year history, their victories over Fiji (44-14) and Samoa (77-7) extending the unbeaten run to 12.

"It's our biggest challenge to date," continued Phillips ahead of Sunday's encounter at the Estadio CA Colon in Santa Fe with only the Pool winner guaranteed a place in the semi finals. "They're very difficult and it's always a massive game."

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Facing this type of intensity, though, is nothing new to the 19-year-old after he received a call up to the Wales training squad for the 2010 Six Nations, despite only having made only seven appearances for his region, the Ospreys.

A member of the same regional academy that helped Leigh Halfpenny attract the attention of Welsh selectors only months after playing in the inaugural Junior World Championship in 2008, Phillips has represented Wales at Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 level.

The call up to join Warren Gatland's squad not only provided an unexpected confidence boost for the youngster but also consolidated his belief in age group rugby as the perfect platform for those seeking national honours.

"It was brilliant, it was very unexpected, I never in a million years thought I would get the call up," Phillips told IRB.com. "We play a very similarly structured game [in Under 20s]. Confidence-wise and physicality-wise playing with the older men was great and it's fantastic that we can play the same way as them at 20s level."

Driving ambition

While Phillips is still waiting to earn his first Wales test cap, the experience has only cemented his drive to claim a regular spot, as either wing or centre, in Gatland's starting line-up.

"All I can really hope is to look to build on my own strengths and weaknesses. It's every player's dream really and definitely something I aspire to. I got the call up, at the end of the day I did my best in training and hopefully I might get the call up again one day."

It is this ambition that Phillips will look to draw on as he prepares to face the Baby Blacks, who on paper appear the stronger side as they seek to keep the distinctive trophy in New Zealand hands.

New Zealand ran out 31-6 winners when the nations last met, in the 2008 semi finals in Swansea, and Wales have the added pressure that victory is a must because they have less points than the second placed sides in the other pools - France and South Africa.

This is because Wales have failed to pick up a bonus point in beating Samoa 22-13 and Fiji 31-3, although this is not a fact that overly concerns Phillips who believes the level of competition is such that any score favouring his side at the final whistle is advantageous.

Our game the focus

"Collectively we've won two games out of two starts so that's really all we can ask for. We were a bit slow to start with in our Samoa game, but we came away with the win and that's what it is all about in this competition," Phillips said.

"It was a difficult game against Samoa as we really didn't know what to expect, we hadn't played them before. I felt we could have had a bonus point against Fiji. We got two tries in the first half and tries went begging in the second half but like I said at the end of the day a win's a win."

Phillips insists the Welsh squad have the ability to halt New Zealand's unbeaten run and have spent the last couple of days addressing the strengths and weaknesses of their own game rather than focusing solely on their opposition's style of play.

"Our focus will be on our jobs on the pitch and hopefully the rewards will come along. They've got great forwards and great backs but it's about us playing to our strengths really. Obviously they like to play high tempo games and we'll be looking to match that," he said.

"We've got momentum coming into the game and we aim to be as aggressive as possible. We'll be looking to make our defence solid and our attack clinical. We've prepared really well and if things go to plan we can turn up on the day, play for the full 80 minutes and then come away with the win."