Shackled: Mike Phillips never really got the chance to cut loose in last season's Top 14. Will he fare better next term?

By Alan Dymock

IN THE August edition of Rugby World, British and Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips spoke of his role for Bayonne in the French Top 14.

After a tough year where Bayonne flattered to deceive the Welshman remained optimistic, saying: “There’s a lot of pressure on me as their only current international to perform in every game, but I don’t mind that.

“I’d like to see the club achieve their goal of reaching the Heineken Cup. We were one slot off it (in the Top 14 table) this year but we’ve made a couple of good signings, like out-half Stephen Brett from New Zealand.”

Kiss, kiss, bang, bang: dead-eyed kicker Rory Kockott

The future may indeed have more in store for Phillips and Bayonne in what is the scrum-half’s final year of his contract, however, the French public have weighed in and measured his contribution last term and found him wanting.

Revered sports paper Midi Olympique has released their annual top 10 of half-backs and Phillips has not made it on to the list of best scrum-half performers in the league, last season.

Victorious Castres saw their goal kicking South African scrum-half Rory Kockott elected the best of the bunch, while Morgan Parra of Clermont Auvergne and Benoit Paillaugue of Montpellier followed him, respectively, into the top three.

In descending order the rest of the list was made by Racing Metro’s Maxime Machenaud, Toulon’s Freddie Michalak, Toulouse’s Jean-Marc Doussain, Bordeaux Begles’ Heini Adams, Jonathan Pelissie of Grenoble, Dimitri Yachvili of Biarritz and Sebastian Tillous-Borde, also of Toulon.

The partner Phillips has been missing?: Stephen Brett

Phillips has undoubted quality, but in what was almost certainly a transitional season for Bayonne the scrum-half could not bullock his team onto the front foot and boss games as he has done so many times for Wales. He has at least one more season to prove his worth to the French public, though. He was part of a victorious Lions side in Australia but admits he didn’t play particularly well but he has rebuilt and reinvigorated himself before. After all, he also explained to Rugby World that he is maturing all the time and is even – shock of all shocks – looking forward to settling down off the field.

Reading between the obtrusively-straight running lines, this could spell bad news for the rest of the Top 14 next season. The more comfortable he is, the more likely it could be that he hauls his teammates towards a Heineken Cup place.

Midi Olympique also named their top fly-halves, with Jonny Wilkinson rated above all others. Castres Remi Tales was second, with Bordeaux’s Camille Lopez third. James Hook of Perpignan came in with a respectable sixth place on the list.

To read more of our exclusive interview with Wales and Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips, check out the August edition of Rugby World Magazine – out now!