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The Welsh Grand Slam-winning captain forced to walk away from professional rugby at just 25

Tom Phillips doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.

Nor is he bitter.

The captain of Wales U20s’ Grand Slam-winning team of 2016 is better than that. A lot better.

Even so, the past couple of years haven’t been easy.There have been injuries, including a hip problem that kept Phillips out long-term. Then there was the pandemic, wiping out pretty much all rugby below professional level in Wales.

For those in the pay-for-play sector who needed to be on the field to prove themselves, it’s been something akin to a nightmare.

The challenging times culminated in the hard-working back-rower being released by the Scarlets.

But, to his credit, he’s taken the decision with good grace.

“I don’t have anything against the Scarlets,” he says.

“I grew up in Llanelli watching the Scarlets and I have always been a fan. I’ve loved being part of the squad and I’ve made great friends there.

“There are good back-rows at the club and a lot of competition.

“I’ve had injuries. I was out for close on a year with a fractured hip.

“Nor has Covid helped, with there being no rugby below the professional tier to fall back. Before the pandemic there was an A league, you had the British and Irish League, you had semi-professional rugby every week.

“Without all that, there haven’t been opportunities.

“So there was a combination of things.

“How did I learn of the decision? Glenn Delaney was coach at the time and he approached me and explained the situation.

“I kind of saw it coming. When you are in that environment you get a feel for how your progression is going.

“If you are not playing for x amount of games you can only wonder if the club will keep you there or let other people play in front of you. As I say circumstances didn’t help. Everything comes into it.

“Ultimately, it’s a job, and if you are not getting picked for your job, you have to move on.”



Tom Phillips is unavailable as the Scarlets have used up their quota of call-ups for this season’s Champions Cup

Sometimes, events just don’t work out.

What’s not in doubt is that Phillips can play.

Rewind five years and he led Wales to an U20s Six Nations Grand Slam. Bearded and displaying remarkable maturity, the captain of a side that contained Adam Beard, Keelan Giles, Harrison Keddie Dillon Lewis and Owen Watkin did not look only 20 years of age. Anyone walking into one of those U20s press conferences would have assumed the man sitting alongside then head coach Jason Strange on top table was 35 going on 45.

As all good blindsides do, Phillips simply got on with his job in that campaign, content to do the unglamorous work without which no team can prosper.

He drove hard as a carrier, put his body on the line and rarely missed a tackle. When big opposition ball-carriers were steaming through, it was usually the skipper who stepped forward to make the hit.

Others took the limelight; the man wearing No. 6 for Wales didn’t seem to mind. It said much for his character and the respect he commanded from his team-mates was obvious.

Maybe he was coming through at the wrong time, though, with the Scarlets having Tadhg Beirne and Aaron Shingler among their blindside options.

And the injuries compounded things. There was a hamstring problem, a shoulder bump, the odd concussion and the hip setback, not helping Phillips establish himself on the senior scene.

But his sort is always useful to a team.

His plan now is to take time out from the professional game to regroup at semi-pro level. Having experienced the harsh reality of full-time playing, too, he’s going to cast an eye to the future, to make sure he has more security in place.

“I’m thinking of going into teaching at some point,” he says.

“I’d like to go into PE teaching or maybe into some sort of coaching role, perhaps with an academy if it came up.

“My daughter is only six months old, so stability for the future is important.

“I’ll probably play semi-pro, as well, to get back playing again.

“I have missed taking the field. I love training, but it’s not the same as playing. You don’t have the experience of winning and losing, the highs and the lows.

“The plan is to bank a full season of 20-plus games at semi-pro level while putting down the foundations for a career.”



Tom Phillips with his daughter Ayda

Phillips hasn’t completely closed the door on the professional game.

“I’d love to be playing top-level rugby every week if there was an opportunity — which rugby player wouldn’t? — but sometimes the cards don’t fall that way,” he says.

“And there’s not much footage for potential clubs to come in and watch because I haven’t played much of late with the pandemic and the injuries.

“But I’m only 25 and still feel I can contribute.”

Maybe the golden rule in these situations is not to burn bridges.

Circumstances can change, and change quickly. Doors can open as well as close. To throw another metaphor into the mix, fate can be a kind mistress as well as a cruel one.

Anyway, Phillips counts himself fortunate to have featured for the only club he wanted to play for as a schoolboy.

“I don’t have any bitterness towards the Scarlets or towards anyone there,” he says.

“I have made some lifelong friends through rugby and it’s meant a huge amount to pull on the jersey.

“Scarlets are a great club, on and off the field, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to play for them.

“I live in Kidwelly now, but I grew up in town in Llanelli and I could see the stadium from my parents’ house.

“I went into the academy at 16 and have been there ever since. From my mid-teens to now it’s been my only workplace.

“It’s the only place I’ve wanted to go. What’s happened has happened.

“I’m of the mindset that I’m going to embrace the next opportunity that comes up.”

That kind of thinking should keep Phillips on track in whatever comes next.

He still has much to offer.

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