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Warren Gatland backs Mike Phillips to play a key role for Wales

Published 09/09/2015

Mike Phillips has a big part to play in Wales' World Cup campaign after being called up to replace the injured Rhys Webb, says head coach Warren Gatland.
Mike Phillips has a big part to play in Wales' World Cup campaign after being called up to replace the injured Rhys Webb, says head coach Warren Gatland.

British and Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips has a big part to play in Wales' World Cup campaign, says head coach Warren Gatland.

Phillips was drafted into Wales' 31-man World Cup squad after Rhys Webb was ruled out of the tournament by a foot injury suffered in the 23-19 victory over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.

The 33-year-old has won 94 Wales caps and, having played five times for the Lions as well in 2009 and 2013, he will reach 100 Test appearances should he feature at the World Cup.

Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams might have been in front of him when Wales' World Cup squad was selected last month, but Gatland feels the Racing Metro star could now make an impact after being handed a tournament lifeline.

"For that first game against Uruguay, the experience Mike brings and what he's achieved in the past is going to be pretty invaluable for us," Gatland said after also calling up Ospreys wing Eli Walker to replace stricken full-back Leigh Halfpenny.

"Eli's an exciting player who's pretty inexperienced as well and they've come in behind other players at the moment.

"But hopefully those players might be involved in the first match."

Gatland defended himself against accusations that he should have not played key players in the warm-up game against Italy when Halfpenny was also sidelined by knee ligament damage.

Wales legend Shane Williams said Halfpenny, one of the most reliable goal-kickers in world rugby, should have been wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the World Cup given his importance to the national team.

But Gatland said: "There was more than one player strapped up on the weekend - I think there were half-a-dozen - and you can't protect everybody.

"Leigh had worn that strapping before the Irish game. It was something to do with the back of his knee and he had asked for it as he had been using it for kicking as well.

"The strapping was light strapping rather than heavy strapping and it was just an unfortunate accident.

"The injury was nothing to do with the strapping he had on at the time. That was to protect him from something at the back of his knee which he had been wearing for three weeks for his kicking.

"The physio said he didn't need the strapping but from a confidence point of view he'd been using it for three weeks and wanted to have it on.

"It's devastating for the two lads and you feel for them, but we'd spoken before about players who had missed out originally needing to be on standby because there's a possibility the squad would pick up injuries.

"Unfortunately, we've done it pretty early and they are two quite key players, but we have to have confidence in our squad."

Liam Williams now looks set to fill the full-back void left by Halfpenny but the rugged Scarlet is himself on the way back to full fitness after undergoing foot surgery in the summer.

"We want him to start against Uruguay because he's going to need some rugby," Gatland said,

"He's been running with us. He's had a bit of pain but it's nothing to do with the injury.

"Perhaps it's a bit of referred pain as he's been up and doing more running.

"We fitness-tested him at the end of last week and his results were as good as some of the top players in the squad.

"He's naturally going to be fit given his body frame, but he might not play for 80 minutes because we have to think about the (England) game the following week."

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