Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Howley welcomes back trio

Mike Phillips

Rob Howley has welcomed the return of Wales' France-based international trio for this season's RBS 6 Nations campaign.

Bayonne scrum-half Mike Phillips is a certainty to start in Sunday's Dublin opener against Ireland, and he could be joined by full-back Lee Byrne and fly-half James Hook, now with Clermont Auvergne and Perpignan respectively.

All three players missed Wales' December defeat at home to Australia because of club commitments, but their experience is crucial to Welsh Six Nations ambitions given that they boast more than 150 caps between them, and assistant coach Howley said: "They are experienced players, they are comfortable playing international rugby."

He added: "They all seem to be enjoying their time in France, and it has been good to see them back in our environment.

"I am not concerned that Perpignan and Bayonne have been struggling. Rugby is sometimes not about what you do, but the other 14 players.

"Their mindset seems good, and they want to be part of what they were during the World Cup. They have huge incentives to deliver."

Wales coach Warren Gatland could field a team containing just eight survivors from the World Cup quarter-final win against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Three members of the pack that helped brush Ireland aside in Wellington four months ago - injured trio Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris - will be sidelined for varying time periods during the tournament.

Hookers Matthew Rees (calf strain) and Lloyd Burns (neck) are also absent, while Gatland will confirm later on Friday whether three other players have won or lost their fitness battles.

Gatland delayed his scheduled team announcement by 48 hours after deciding to give centre Jamie Roberts, fly-half Rhys Priestland and flanker Dan Lydiate as much recovery time as possible.