Howley warning for overseas stars
Rob Howley delivered a blunt message to Wales' expanding foreign legion of star players about their international prospects.
Wales' interim head coach has made a major call by leaving British and Irish Lions Test scrum-half Mike Phillips on the bench for Saturday's autumn Test series opener against Argentina in Cardiff. Bayonne number nine Phillips is among five members of the Wales autumn Test squad currently plying their trade in French or English club rugby.
"The dynamics of the team are important when you spend time together. It's about those marginal gains that you get," Howley said. "When you go to France and England (to play), you take yourself out of that environment. It's a difficult one because some of those players, in terms of experience, we might lose that."
He added: "I suppose as coaches we have to take the hit because we want to be hugely supportive of our regional game. We want our supporters to watch the best Welsh players in the Welsh game.
"I've watched Mike several times with Bayonne, so these players are still under the microscope - it's not out of sight, out of mind. Mike understood. The 13-day preparation period is critical for the success of Wales, and that is why the participation agreement is in place with the regions."
Club commitments meant none of the five were involved during last week's punishing training camp in Poland, which was viewed by Howley as critical towards the autumn preparations.
In contrast, Wales' home-based players travelled to Spala because terms of a participation agreement signed between the four professional regional teams and Welsh Rugby Union ensured their availability. Phillips, James Hook (Perpignan) and Paul James (Bath) are available for Argentina and all three are on the bench.
They can also play against Samoa and New Zealand, but not final autumn opponents Australia. The Wallabies clash falls outside the International Rugby Board Test window and clubs are therefore not obliged to release their players.
A deal has been struck with Perpignan over lock Luke Charteris, who will play club rugby this weekend but then be free to face Australia, while there are positive signs that Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins could also be available for the Wallabies encounter.
Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle will start this weekend, and Howley added: "There was the amount of work Tavis got through last week, not only with the back-line but with the forwards as well, and generally being in and around the team. He has worked his socks off and deserves to start."