As I’m sure everyone has heard by now, Mike Phillips has been sacked by Bayonne after allegedly turning up to a video session under the influence of alcohol. Mike is said to be planning to take legal action after Bayonne terminated his contract. However, the details of whether or not our scrum half is going to get some compensation from his former French club really doesn’t concern me.
What concerns me is the question of what on earth we do with Phillips now. He has now joined the Welsh squad for training ahead of the Autumn Internationals, and it seems likely that he will be the frontrunner to start at 9 against South Africa on the 9th of November. Now all of this is well and good, but what happens when the Autumn Internationals finish and the players go back to their clubs? It is obviously unthinkable that Mike would be without a club, and I’m sure he will have no shortage of suitors, but in my opinion it is crucial that the rest of Phillips’ career is managed very carefully indeed.
The sad fact of the matter is that at the moment, Wales do not have any other scrum halves of Mike’s calibre and ultimately, it is highly unlikely that we will have any other number-9’s ready by the time the next World Cup comes around in 2015.
Whilst Lloyd Williams is a capable understudy, he doesn’t yet (and perhaps never will) possess those top two inches that make a good player a great player. Unfortunately, whilst Bayonne can go out and get another scrumhalf of Mike’s quality, Wales can’t and therefore he is currently our only option behind the scrum.
With that in mind, it is crucial that the WRU does everything it can to help Mike manage the next step in his career, in order to ensure that the decision of where he plays next is in Wales’ best interests.
Given that he has just been sacked for what is presumably termed as something like ‘gross misconduct’, Phillips is unlikely to be desirable as he once was. Whilst he is still a very good player, he is no longer the powerhouse he was in 2009, and therefore it seems unlikely that many of Europe’s top teams would want to bust a gut in order to bring him in. With that in mind, France may no longer be an option for Mike, and in my mind that’s a good thing. At the ripe old age of 31, Phillips no longer has the same bargaining power as someone like Jamie Roberts has, and therefore if Mike signed for another French club, he may struggle to get the release clauses necessary to make playing for Wales a viable option.
Another option for Phillips would be to head to the Aviva Premiership, and whilst I am a massive fan of that league, he would face the same issues regarding availability for national squad events. Furthermore, the Aviva salary cap would probably rule out Mike getting anything near what he is used to in terms of money; especially given that he isn’t exactly bargaining from a position of strength
In my mind, the only way forward with the Phillips saga is for the player to come back to Wales. The WRU are currently talking about the idea of central contracts, Phillips is the sort of player that could certainly benefit from the central contract situation. Phillips is a firm part of Team Wales, and saves his best rugby for when he dons the national jersey. He could be deployed at one of the four Welsh regions (probably the Dragons, if only to complete the set), and would be able to be managed effectively in the lead up to the World Cup.
If the WRU are not keen on centrally contracting Mike, I still believe that his best bet is to return to Wales. For all his faults, Mike clearly loves playing for his country, and now that he is in the twilight of his career, Wales should be the thing at the forefront of his mind. Even if he is only offered a relatively modest salary, I really hope that he understands that Wales is the best place for him,
What do you guys think? Should he have been punished by Wales for what happened with Bayonne? Would anyone play someone else at scrumhalf? Let us know below.