10:03pm Thursday 6th February 2014
WALES star Mike Phillips has been warned to avoid getting embroiled in a personal duel with fellow Lions scrum-half Conor Murray in the crunch Six Nations clash with Ireland, writes Chris Kirwan
Phillips had a subdued start to the tournament against Italy but is unquestionably a beast for the big occasion.
The Test in Dublin is certainly that with both nations taking to the Aviva Stadium turf with Grand Slam, Triple Crown and title dreams.
There are a number of fascinating tussles – Toby Faletau versus Jamie Heaslip, Adam Jones against Cian Healy, Alun Wyn Jones battling Paul O'Connell – but the duel at 9 possibly pips the lot.
Phillips was the first-choice scrum half for the Lions in Australia but Munster's Murray won plenty of plaudits from the management team, including Wales assistant coach Rob Howley.
"I have a lot of admiration for Conor and I respect his hard work and diligence," said 43-year-old, himself a former Lions scrum-half.
"He was probably number three going on the tour but he was up there with the best by the end and made a telling contribution in the Test series and provincial games
"He is a good, astute kicker of the ball, very accurate, and that is part of Ireland's game.
"It will be a challenge for Mike and he must focus on his game and not get tied up in a duel, focusing on allowing us to play and do what he is good at.
"You are mindful when playing against a nine who has been on a Lions tour with you and might be seen as an equal talent, but Mike must perform his role and not get tangled up in a duel with Murray. His long passing game is pretty important to us."
Keeping a cool head will be vital in what is expected to a tight encounter. Howley hopes that is where Wales, who are going for a third title on the bounce, have the edge.
He said: "The experiences the players have had with Wales and the Lions in big matches means they can deal with intensity and hype and the media.
"Experienced players become automated, having been there and done it and I expect that to be the same this weekend.
"Ireland will be buoyed by their performance against Scotland and we were frustrated and disappointed by our second-half in particular against Italy," he added. "We need to get back on to the front foot."
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