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Wales expect Phillips to shine

Mike Phillips has been backed to put a torrid few weeks behind him and deliver the goods for Wales against South Africa on Saturday.

The Wales scrum-half makes his first playing appearance in more than a month after being suspended and then sacked by French club Bayonne for allegedly turning up drunk at a video analysis session.

Phillips has said he intends to take legal action against his former employers, but he is currently without a club as Wales prepare to face their opening autumn opponents.

The reigning RBS 6 Nations champions, though, have no qualms about 77-times-capped Phillips' mental and physical state ahead of the Millennium Stadium Springboks showdown.

"We can expect a good solid performance from Mike," Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde said.

"He has probably got to prove his worth. However, there is no better big-match player than Mike Phillips. We've seen that in the past.

"When he needs to deliver the goods, he comes up trumps, and I don't expect it to be any different on Saturday.

"He is vocal, he is confident and he has got a spring in his step. I have been impressed with him."

Phillips will be key to Wales' bid for only a second victory against one of rugby union's southern hemisphere giants - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - since coach Warren Gatland took charge five years ago.

While Wales have won three Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final during that time, their record against the so-called 'big three' has been abysmal.

"Historically, we have always struggled, especially early on in the autumn campaigns, and then got better as the games have progressed," McBryde said.

"However, we've got rid of of that as an excuse, especially considering the summer we had with the players involved with the Lions, and our last match here was a great day against England, so there are happy memories coming back to the Millennium Stadium.

"We will be trying to recapture some of that form we showed against England.

"It's a tall order with regard to coming together for the first time, but hopefully the players will be able to use the experience they've had this year.

"We've got to take confidence from the individuals we have got in our team.

"Everyone is on about how big the South African team is and how physical they are, but when you look at some of the individuals we've got, we are not the smallest team in world rugby either.

"South Africa will be keen to recapture their form of the Rugby Championship, but we've just got to focus on ourselves and make sure that we are able to live in that arm wrestle, the intensity and keep our composure and make sure our accuracy is as good as it can be.

"If we can do that, then we know we are going to be in with a shout."

Wales can reflect on just one win at South Africa's expense from 26 attempts, and that was 14 years ago, but delivering another red-letter day at the Millennium Stadium is not beyond them eight months after battering England by a record 30-3 scoreline.

"This team has matured and developed since the last World Cup, and this is the next step," McBryde said. "We've lived up to expectancy in the past, and hopefully we can do that again on Saturday.

"Sam (Warburton) spoke to the team this morning with regard to taking the next step and not being happy with being second-best.

"The Lions tour has given the players a big boost. They've gone that step further and won a Lions series against Australia.

"And they know there is no magic formula, it is just down to hard work and graft, being accurate and taking your opportunities when they come."

Lock Alun-Wyn Jones led the Lions to a series-clinching success in Sydney last June, and he will undoubtedly be an instrumental figure behind Wales' victory quest this weekend when he lines up alongside eight of his Lions third Test team-mates.

"We need to start getting these scalps. We've been close in the last 12-18 months. and we need to start converting those narrow losses into wins," Jones said.

"We lost by 11 points across three games in Australia (on the 2012 tour) and a point against South Africa at the 2011 World Cup.

"It's very easy to say game management, scrum or set-piece was the reason, but I don't know. What we have learnt when we have been close will be invaluable for what is coming up."

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