There are more dramatic ups and downs in Welsh rugby than a soap opera, according to Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips.
Wales face Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday with a win essential to avoid a autumn series whitewash after losses to Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand, and also crucial to avoid dropping down the IRB rankings.
The defeat by the All Blacks was a sixth consecutive loss, a far cry from the results Wales posted in winning the Six Nations Grand Slam after impressing at last year’s World Cup.
The side’s vastly varying fortunes were the stuff of TV, Phillips said.
“Welsh rugby’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? It’s like Eastenders or something,” the Bayonne scrumhalf said in reference to the long-running London-based BBC soap opera.
“We’ve been knocked out of World Cups and the following year we win the Grand Slam,” he added. “It’s quite entertaining, but it’s disappointing for the players because you feel the lows and no one wants to win more than the players.”
Phillips said the 33-10 loss to the All Blacks, in which the Welsh came back with two second-half tries after the visitors had gone 33-0 up, had given the Wales team heart despite some mistakes in decision making.
“All in all, it was better, considering the tough situation with injuries we’ve had and boys coming in without much experience,” he said.
“It wan’t that long ago we won the Grand Slam — it was in this year, but that’s professional sport, it’s small margins really. We’ve played quite well over the last two years. We can be proud of that and keep pushing on,” he added. “We’re working hard and I’m sure there are some big wins around the corner.”
Phillips was part of the Wales squad that lost the three-Test series to Australia in the summer, a hard-fought campaign that saw the Wallabies triumph by a combined total of 11 points over the three matches.
“We haven’t been far away,” he said. “[This November] we haven’t had the results we’ve wanted. It was a bit of a better performance on the weekend, but it’d be great to try and get that win this weekend.”
Phillips, whose move to the French Top 14 with Bayonne has led to a selection rift with Wales coach Warren Gatland, warned that Australia were a complete package on a level with the All Blacks.
“They’re very skilful. Like New Zealand all their forwards can play the ball, they’ve got some dangerous steppers and creators, and across the board can fill in for each other,” he said.
He pinpointed flanker David Pocock as a danger.
“He’s very good at what he does, like [All Blacks captain Richie] McCaw, outstanding at his job of disrupting our game,” Phillips said.
“You’ve got to get our support to the ball carrier quickly, get under him and be aggressive and move him away, we’ve got to be effective in the contact area. We can’t send in three or four guys to clear him away, we’ve got to send in one and that’s something we have to improve on,” he added.