Mike Phillips has had his say about his alleged feisty rivalry with Justin Marshall. The ex-All Black outlined to BBC Sport’s Scrum V podcast in March that the pair of scrum-halves had their differences which even boiled over into a Millennium Stadium tunnel altercation in 2007.
Marshall, who spent two seasons at Ospreys following a stellar Test career, clashed with ex-Wales No9 Phillips during an EDF Energy Cup semi-final and tensions spilt over after the full-time whistle. “He grabbed me by the throat after the game when I tried to shake his hand,” said Marshall on the podcast. “That’s how wound up he was. He was angry.
“By God he disliked me. A lot of it was really personal. ‘You’re rubbish. What are you doing out here?’ Blah, blah, blah. At this stage, I’d played 81 tests for the All Blacks so I thought I was okay!”
Phillips has now played down the rivalry between the pair, who went on to become teammates at Ospreys the following season. Speaking to walesonline.co.uk from Dubai where he is now a consultant with sports management company World in Motion, the 99-cap Phillips said: “It wasn’t like that at all. The way I looked at it was: He’s Justin Marshall, he’s got 80 caps, he’s been one of the best in the world and I’m going to try and beat him. I want to be the best in the world.
“He’s arguably one of the best that’s played the game and you want to push yourself to be as good as you can be. Me giving stick to people on the field was always about me, it wasn’t about anybody else. It was to spark that competitiveness in me or maybe, at times, I was a bit nervous or edgy. That day he mentioned in Cardiff, I was good mates with a lot of the Ospreys boys like James Hook and Lee Byrne.
“Hooky said after: ‘Fair play, there are no friends with Mike on the field’. I caught him in the face a few times. But he’d be the first person I’d speak to after and a few people didn’t really understand that about me. It was never personal with anyone. You just want to win so much you use anything you can.”
What were they like as teammates for a year in Swansea? “I didn’t really speak to him that often but what I did see was that he was an absolute winner, a competitor. Even though he was at the end of his career, he wanted to start every game. He wasn’t always great in training on a Tuesday or Wednesday, maybe a bit stiff, but come Saturday he was easily one of the best players on the field.
“That’s what I took from him really. Tuesday is important but it’s all about Saturday. That’s when it matters. I remember I got picked against Gloucester in the Heineken Cup. As soon as it was announced, he threw his toys out of the pram a little bit and that surprised me.
“But the era that he came through was dog eat dog and that’s what made him so good. I never saw myself as competing against him because we were at different stages in our careers. But what blew me away was just how much he still wanted to win and how good he was on game day.”
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