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Battling Phillips is delighted to be back in mix

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: November 23, 2012

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WITH three Scarlets hookers training with Wales ahead of tomorrow's Millennium Stadium showdown with the All Blacks, Emyr Phillips doesn't need reminding of the scrap he faces for regular rugby this season.

But there again, the 25-year-old is just happy to be back in the battle.

Phillips, the club captain of Premiership high-flyers Llandovery, has spent the opening 12 weeks of the season recovering from a torn pectoral muscle.

He returned last weekend with an impressive 20 minutes off the bench in the LV= Cup win over Cardiff Blues at Parc y Scarlets.

And he is set to make his first start of the campaign when the region resume Pro12 action against Munster at Cork's Musgrave Park on Sunday.

"It was good to get back out there again," said the combative hooker.

"The surgeon said I wouldn't be able to play before 12 weeks so that was a real target and it was 12 weeks and a day to the Blues game.

"Fair play to Jo, our physio, she put a great programme together for me, kept it entertaining, and luckily it has come together quite well."

So how exactly do you tear a pectoral muscle?

"It was the last day of pre-season. I got into a pretty intense scrum session and towards the end, a scrum happened to go down," he recalled.

"To be honest I can't really remember it happening, but the boys said they heard a rip, almost like a towel ripping.

"I had a few funny looks from the props when they got up and then my arm didn't feel too good.

"It wasn't until I walked across to the physio room and lay on the bed that my arm cramped up. The muscle had come completely off the bone.

"It wasn't the best of timing, but I owe loads to the medical staff and conditioners here — they have been putting work in on their days off and on weekends to help me get back to fitness."

The next challenge for Phillips is to try to persuade head coach Simon Easterby to give him an extended run in a side looking to cement their position in the all-important top four with the halfway mark of the league campaign looming. With Ospreys No. 2 Richard Hibbard ruled out of the entire autumn series with a damaged shoulder, British Lion Matthew Rees – who starts against the All Blacks tomorrow — and Ken Owens are also set to be involved against the Wallabies a week later.

That match takes place a day before the Scarlets host Pro12 leaders Ulster and just a week before the return of the Heineken Cup when Exeter Chiefs roll into Llanelli.

And, of course, there's also the presence Kirby Myhill, the hooker who captained Wales Under-20s to the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championships in the summer — a campaign which included a memorable victory over the Baby Blacks.

"It has been the same since I have been here," admitted Phillips.

"As well as Matthew, Ken and Kirby there have also been boys who have left like Mo Schwalger and Rhys Lawrence. I don't know where they keep coming from, I hope there aren't any more coming through.

"But the competition is good, we are all pushing each other."

Despite being considered third choice, Phillips still played 22 matches last season, including nine starts in the Pro12.

"I was happy with the amount of game-time I had last season.

"Hopefully, if I bide my time, I can have some more this season. I have just got to keep my head down and keep plugging away," he added.

"Simon has told us that if we are playing well there is a chance of keeping the shirt when the international boys are back.

"We are second in the league with some huge games coming up and it is important we keep the momentum going."

The Scarlets, though, will know history is very much against them when it comes to claiming a victory against the Irish province.

You have to trawl back to the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Stradey Park in 2007 for the Welsh side's last victory over the twice European champions — five years of misery that have included 14 defeats and a 20-20 home draw at the end of last season.

"Any time you play Munster it is going to be tough," said Phillips.

"We were pleased with how our scrummaging went last weekend and we have got plenty of depth in the front row now.

"But it is going to be a big test out there. They pride themselves on their set-piece and have a strong overseas influence."

Among those from abroad will be props BJ Botha and Wian du Preez and new signing CJ Stander. Add that to three South Africans in the Scarlets ranks and Phillips may be wise brushing up on his Afrikaans before the trip to Cork.

"There has been a bit flying about," he added.

"But fair play, the three South Africans have been great. They love it here, they can't believe the fans coming up to them when they go to Tesco or popping out for a quiet drink.

"They love the sing-songs in the changing room after games and stay around afterwards to speak to the fans.

"If you come to an environment like this you have to take it on and fair play to them they have really gone head first into it.

"Everyone we have signed so far has made a big input."

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