Wales drop Phillips for crunch game

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Phillips feb 19

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Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips has been replaced by Rhys Web who will make his first Wales start in Friday's crunch Six Nations international against unbeaten France in Cardiff. Photo by Steve Haag

London – Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips has been demoted to the bench for Friday's crunch Six Nations international against unbeaten France in Cardiff.

Phillips, who has won 82 caps and was the British and Irish Lions Test number nine in Australia last year, was replaced by Rhys Web, who will make his first Wales start, in the team announced by coach Warren Gatland on Wednesday.

In the absence through injury of Scott Williams, George North moves from wing to centre, with Liam Williams replacing North out wide.

One other change from the team thrashed 26-3 by Ireland in Dublin last time out sees fit-again lock Luke Charteris recalled in place of Andrew Coombs.

Wales are bidding to become the first team to win three successive outright Six Nations Championship titles.

But the heavy defeat by Ireland was a huge setback and a loss to France would all but extinguish Welsh hopes of an outright treble never before completed in the Championship's various guises.

“Friday is a massive game for us,” Gatland said.

“As a squad, we have a huge amount of experience in this tournament, and we will be calling on that this week,” the New Zealander added.

“We see the game as a huge opportunity for us to put things right.

“Luke (Charteris) has been working really hard over the past couple of weeks, and it's a big boost for us that he is back.

“I thought Rhys (Webb) played excellently for the Ospreys at the weekend, and he comes in and gives us a different dimension. It's a great opportunity for him.

“George (North) moves into the midfield, and he brings great footwork to the role.

“His partnership with Jamie (Roberts) will be important as we look to stop the directness of France and Mathieu Bastareaud.”

Gatland is without several centres in Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies and Ashley Beck through injury.

There had been speculation that, rather than move North in from the wing, where he has started all his previous 37 Tests, Gatland might bring utility back James Hook in alongside Lions star Roberts in midfield.

But Hook's versatility has once again kept him among the replacements.

Meanwhile Gatland, the Lions' coach in Australia last year, resisted the temptation to tinker with his back-row by giving Justin Tipuric a start and has instead kept faith with the loose forward trio of No 8 Taulupe Faletau, Wales captain Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate who all played against Ireland.

France will arrive in Cardiff fresh from home wins over England and Italy, with 'Les Bleus' looking to build on an impressive record of just two defeats in seven previous Six Nations matches at the Millennium Stadium.

The Wales team announced on Wednesday to play France in a Six Nations international at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Friday: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate; Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris; Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins

Replacements: Ken Owens, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar, James Hook. – Sapa-AFP.


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