Warren Gatland drops Mike Phillips over his confrontational approach
Wales coach not happy with scrumhalf’s performance against Ireland
Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips has been dropped to the bench for Friday night’s Six Nations game against France at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Mike Phillips has been relegated to the Wales bench for Friday’s Six Nations clash against France in Cardiff, with coach Warren Gatland blaming the scrumhalf’s confrontational style for his demotion.
Phillips, who has won 82 caps and was the British and Irish Lions Test number nine in Australia last year, makes way for Rhys Webb, who makes his first Wales start.
Asked about Phillips’s omission at his team announcement press conference on Wednesday, Gatland added: “We just felt the team needed a change. We weren’t happy with Mike’s performance against Ireland, and we just felt it was an opportunity for Rhys.
“He (Phillips) probably just got a little bit confrontational with one on one with Conor Murray.
“He was yellow carded as well towards the end of the game. It is probably an opportunity for him to reflect on his performance, which is why we have put him on the bench and given Rhys a chance.
“It is important we give someone else an opportunity in that position to stake a claim, and also give us some depth in that role as well. He (Phillips) always responds well to a challenge.”
As expected, George North moves from wing to centre, where he will partner Jamie Roberts, while Liam Williams takes North’s number 11 shirt.
One other change from the side beaten 26-3 by Ireland last time out sees fit-again lock Luke Charteris return instead of Andrew Coombs.
Charteris was sidelined from the Dublin trip due to hamstring trouble, but his comeback should strengthen a Wales lineout that performed poorly at the Aviva Stadium.
It had been thought Gatland might tinker with the backrow, handing Justin Tipuric a start and moving skipper Sam Warburton from openside to blindside flanker, but he has retained the starting trio of Dan Lydiate, Warburton and Taulupe Faletau that was on duty in Dublin.
“Friday is a massive game for us,” Gatland said. “As a squad, we have a huge amount of experience in this tournament, and we will be calling on that this week. We see the game as a huge opportunity for us to put things right.
“Luke (Charteris) has been working really hard over the past couple of weeks, and it’s a big boost for us that he is back.
“George (North) moves into the midfield, and he brings great footwork to the role. His partnership with Jamie will be important as we look to stop the directness of France and Mathieu Bastareaud.”
The Ireland reversal – Wales’ heaviest in the Six Nations since 2006 – dropped them to fourth in the table.
And they must beat France to keep alive any realistic hope of challenging for an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick.
France, meanwhile, will arrive in Cardiff following victories over England and Italy, while they have suffered just two defeats from seven previous Millennium Stadium visits in the Six Nations.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has named a team showing one enforced change with flanker Wenceslas Lauret replacing his Racing Metro team-mate Bernard Le Roux, who was injured during the 30-10 victory over Italy 10 days ago.
Saint-Andre otherwise retains the team that posted a second successive Six Nations victory this season as Les Bleus target a win that would keep them on course for the title and Grand Slam.
WALES (v France): L Halfpenny (Cardiff); A Cuthbert (Cardiff), G North (Northampton), J Roberts (Racing Metro), L Williams (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys); L Charteris (Perpignan), A-W Jones (Ospreys); D Lydiate (Racing Metro), S Warburton (Cardiff, capt), T Faletau (Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), R Jones (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), D Biggar (Ospreys), J Hook (Perpignan).
FRANCE: B Dulin (Castres); Y Huget (Toulouse), M Bastareaud (Toulon), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), H Bonneval (Stade Francais); J Plisson (Stade Francais), J-M Doussain (Toulouse); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), N Mas (Montpellier); P Pape (Stade Francais, capt), Y Maestri (Toulouse); Y Nyanga (Toulouse), W Lauret (Racing Metro), L Picamoles (Toulouse).
Replacements: B Mach (Castres), Y Forestier (Castres), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), S Vahaamahina (Perpignan), D Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), R Tales (Castres), G Fickou (Toulouse).