'I wish I was joking' - The email that turned Mike Phillips' stomach
Legendary Welsh scrumhalf Mike Phillips has detailed in a new book his last days as a Wales player and lifted the lid on what he sees as the needlessly unpleasant manner in which management treated players.
Extracts from the autobiography – Half Truths – are being serialised by WalesOnline and reveal extraordinary allegations about how Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and their regime treated players who were coming towards the end of their career.
Phillips, who won 99 Test caps between both Wales and the British & Irish Lions, said he was given the cold shoulder by management towards the end of his time with Wales, despite an illustrious career in the red jersey as his country’s most capped scrumhalf, which included Six Nations, Grand Slams and Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Phillips tells how he was started in a dead-end warm-up match before the Rugby World Cup in 2015, which saw a shadow Wales side beaten 35 – 21 by Ireland. The scrumhalf claims the game was used as a vehicle to put older players out to pasture, a game he suspected would be his last for Wales.
Sure enough, he would be informed he was surplus to requirements, by email.
“Two days after that match I received an email telling me that I hadn’t made the squad for the upcoming World Cup.
“After all those games and all those trophies. I wish I was joking. Let’s face it, there is no nice way to be dropped and I probably wouldn’t have been thrilled regardless of how the news was broken to me.
“But they’d had plenty of time to pull me to one side and tell me to my face that I wasn’t going to be picked in the squad but no, I had an email.”
“I know I wasn’t the easiest player to deal with sometimes but after everything I’d given to the jersey, I felt like I deserved to have that conversation.
“Wales’ most-capped scrum-half and I was never thanked for my services. People may disagree but I felt like it was out of order.”
The then 33-year-old returned to Racing 92 in Paris, but was recalled to the Rugby World Camp as cover for Rhys Webb.
— WalesOnline Rugby (@WalesRugby) October 17, 2021
“I was back with Racing when Rhys had a horrible injury in the final warm-up game. Even though he was the guy who’d taken my shirt, I felt awful for him. I never had any personal beef with Rhys. Wales needed a replacement. I soon had team manager Alan Phillips on the phone.
“It wasn’t a case of ‘Mike we’re calling you up, pack your bags.’ He said, ‘Mike, do you want to come back?’ That told me he knew I’d been treated poorly.
“I think they were expecting me to tell them to shove it up their arse. The thought did cross my mind after the way things had gone, especially the email situation. But I would have regretted it had I turned them down. Regardless of what I thought of the coaches, it was still a Wales call-up.
“I also looked at the fixture list and saw the game against Uruguay and the short turnaround between the England and Fiji games in the group stages. I thought there was a chance that I’d get on in those games and get my 100th cap.
“Before the second group match against England, Tom Jones – the legendary Welsh singer – came into the team hotel to present the players with their jerseys. I wasn’t involved in the matchday 23 but I was still excited to get the opportunity to meet Tom Jones!
“Me and a few of the other boys who were not picked made our way over to the room only to be confronted by Thumper at the door: “Sorry boys, matchday squad only.” They wouldn’t let us in.
“They would spout all this stuff about togetherness in the press when, in reality, this is what was going on.
“I was shocked. It felt a bit petty and unnecessary. It also made no sense whatsoever. I was experienced enough by now to just brush it off but I can’t believe the coaches didn’t consider the psychology of it.
“The boys did well to get out of the group but I didn’t feature against Uruguay or Fiji. I was good enough for 99 caps but now I can’t get 15 minutes against Uruguay? I knew I wasn’t the same player and I was ready to go, but that felt personal.”
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