Wales v England: Mike Phillips wants to mark record with a famous Millennium Stadium victory
THE stakes could scarcely be higher when Wales grapple with England for the Six Nations title today, but Mike Phillips will have at least some cause to celebrate whatever the result.
By making his 77th appearance for Wales, the 30-year-old will overtake the legendary likes of Gareth Edwards, Terry Holmes and Robert Jones to become the country's most capped scrum-half.
An abrasive character who riles opponents and relishes physical contact like a back-rower, Phillips is an affront to the purists' concept of a scrum-half.
Unlike the man whose record he will surpass today, the 76-cap Dwayne Peel, Phillips is not a diminutive figure snapping at the base of a ruck, whirring the ball out to his fly-half with natural flair and clockwork consistency.
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Instead, the Bayonne man is a whirlwind of brute strength, tearing his way through tackles and mucking in like the mud-caked forwards in front of him.
That is not to say Phillips is not a technically accomplished player — his speed of thought and spacial awareness make him a potent attacking threat — but it is his uncompromising power which has defined his international career.
The former Scarlet and Osprey will confront England with characteristic force today, and he will be proud to reach his historic landmark with a style very much his own.
"It couldn't be any better, really," Phillips says.
"It is an honour to become the most capped nine, and hopefully I can put a performance in that is worthy of that.
"When I was 18 people were telling me I was too tall for scrum-half, but I was adamant I was going to go on and play nine. To be the most-capped nine is a massive honour.
"Perhaps I am not the best nine there has ever been, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
"I would like to think I have learned from most experiences, the odd bad game here and there, and I've had the opportunity to put things right.
"I am fairly happy with the way I've played over the years. I just hope I have a big game today."
Phillips and every other player on the pitch will be praying they produce an impressive performance at the Millennium Stadium.
With a Six Nations title on the line, the aspect of a vitriolic Anglo-Welsh rivalry and the fact that British Lions selection could rest heavily on today's encounter, this will not be a match to lose.
"We've just got to go out there and win the game, end of story," Phillips adds.
"England are a great side, they've beaten New Zealand and had a great run. Beating them by one point would be a great achievement. I think they are a fantastic rugby side.
"Hopefully, if we can perform to our best, then who knows what will unfold. We have just got to concentrate on winning the game.
"We've got a lot of caps, we've played in big games in recent seasons — a World Cup semi-final, Grand Slam games — and we will look to bring that to the fore."
Having won three Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final in the last eight years, this current crop of Welsh players is accustomed to matches of this magnitude.
England, contrastingly, have not completed a clean sweep since 2003 and, with a largely inexperienced side, the Millennium Stadium showdown will present Stuart Lancaster's men with a new and daunting challenge.
Phillips will also have a personal statistic he will want to keep intact, having been on the losing team only once in five previous Six Nations encounters against England.
"When I was growing up we never used to beat them (England), although I was at Wembley in 1999 when Gibbsy (Scott Gibbs) scored that try," he says. "I don't think we were in the game in the first half, but Jenks (Neil Jenkins) kicked everything. I remember being all around the English supporters and me and my mate going nuts. I was only young!"
As will be the case in Cardiff today, England travelled to Wales's temporary home at Wembley in 1999 with hopes of securing the Grand Slam.
But there will be even more riding on this afternoon's encounter, with Wales hoping to retain their Six Nations crown — an achievement they last managed in 1979 — by beating England with a seven-point margin and winning the title by virtue of a superior try count.
Triumphing by eight points or more, however, would render the try count irrelevant and, considering that Wales trailed Ireland 30-3 after 45 minutes of their opening game of the tournament, merely being in title contention is a feat.
"It would be massive if everything went our way tomorrow, especially after that first half against Ireland. The players have bounced back extremely well," Phillips says.
"To be here in this position is great, but we've got to go that one more step now.
"It was a bit of a freak 20 minutes against Ireland and I think it shocked us, but to bounce back from that in Paris (a week later) and win was a great achievement.
"Traditionally in the Six Nations we are quite slow starters — I don't know why that is — but we end up finishing really strongly in every series we play in.
"Sometimes, we just need a kick up the backside in the first couple of games. We have done really well since the Ireland game."