Wales' Mike Phillips puts party boy image behind him
After an injury-hit season, Phillips was raring to go against South Africa
by Steffan Garrero
BBC Sport Wales
Mike Phillips yawns as he makes himself comfortable on a park bench at the Ospreys' training ground in Llandarcy.
The former party boy of Welsh rugby has been up since five in the morning.
But this is a calm and relaxed Phillips: the lad about town era is, perhaps, behind him.
The early start is because of his settled lifestyle rather than any extra-curricular nocturnal activity.
"I've been in London with my girlfriend," confides the scrum-half. "We split our time between here and there at the moment."
His girlfriend, in case you didn't know, is the singer Duffy.
After some off-field scrapes, Phillips has kept away from the front pages for the past year.
The hair is starting to grey around the edges and the stubble is distinctly salt and pepper, but the 27-year-old is still hoping his best form is yet to come.
"I missed most of the season through injury and I'm really excited about the opportunity of playing in these big games, so I'm doing extra training to make sure I'm fit."
Phillips' relationship with singer Amy Duffy is well-publicised
Phillips is the embodiment of the "big game player," his performances for the Lions in 2009 typifying his battling attitude.
He's one of the most recognisable faces in this part of the UK, but at the Ospreys being an international rugby player is the norm and being in the headlines is expected.
This is, after all, the club where Ryan Jones, Tommy Bowe and James Hook earn a living.
Gavin Henson is still on their books too, though he hasn't played or trained for over a year.
"We were disappointing again in Europe this year and this would stem that disappointment a little bit," says Phillips. "I was lucky enough to win this league with the Scarlets once and I'll be trying my utmost to win it again with the Ospreys."
Phillips has the air of a man at the peak of his powers and relaxed about his fame.
"Yeah, I'm pretty happy with my life to be honest," he chuckles.
When we meet again a fortnight later Phillips has added the Magners League title to his trophy cabinet, but the national side have lost to South Africa.
Phillips has also acquired a driver.
The big black Mercedes that drops him off at the Wales team's training base at the Vale of Glamorgan hotel is not his.
"It's Duff's car and driver," he mumbles as we shake hands. "I've been sleeping in the back coming home from London."
He is loaded down by two large bags, stacked with training kit for the two-Test tour of New Zealand - with the first encounter on 19 June.
The former Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins, now the national kicking coach, helps carry one to the team room.
"I was gutted when the final whistle went against South Africa, we had a great opportunity and we let it slip. But we've got to go out to New Zealand with bags of belief and be as positive as we possibly can," Phillips says.
Gatland worry over contact area
Wales have never won away against the All Blacks, but Phillips is the kind of character who wants to pit himself against the best and get the better of them.
"We're improving all the time and closing in on these big sides, it's only a matter of time before there's a big win around the corner. You go on the field to win, every game you go out there to win, we don't accept anything else."
Before the team departs, coach Warren Gatland throws a verbal bomb or two at his players. The squad lack on-field leadership. They rely too heavily at regional level on southern hemisphere imports to take charge.
Phillips bristles when the subject is brought up.
"I don't really know " he trails off, thinking about the right thing to say. "The foreign players that come over here are great for the development of the players in Wales. They help us so much, especially at the Ospreys. I don't know really, it's great to have them and to learn off them and to improve."
Leadership by example is the scrum-half's forte. A few more fiery, determined performers will be needed by Gatland if they are to beat the All Blacks away.
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