They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but Sale Sharks scrum-half Mike Phillips claims he is learning plenty during his first foray into domestic English rugby.
The 34-year-old spent the first ten years of his professional career playing in the Pro12 before spending the last five in France’s Top 14, but joined Sale from Racing 92 over the summer.
Phillips has started three of the Sharks’ four Aviva Premiership Rugby matches this term and even with his ample experience – having won 94 Wales caps and toured with the British & Irish Lions on two occasions – he admits it has been a real test.
“It is just as I thought – incredibly tough, every team is capable of beating every team this year,” said Phillips, speaking at the launch of this year’s Aviva Community Fund alongside team-mates Josh Beaumont and Mike Haley.
“It is a competitive league and there are no weak sides, it is a battle every week and it is great to be part of.
“It is great to test myself towards the end of my career, I am a big competitor and I want to test myself against a lot of the young talent coming through.
“There are some big international signings in the league, it is a chance for me to push myself on and be competitive at the highest level.”
The Aviva Community Fund is a nationwide initiative that lends a helping hand to local communities by offering support and funding for local clubs, causes and projects.
It has already benefited over 320,000 people, through 431 winning projects across the UK, and this year, local grassroots sports clubs can apply or reapply for funding in a new, sport-specific category.
And Phillips believes funding local clubs – where most professional players developed their love of the game – is vital for the future of the sport.
“It is where it all starts as a young kid,” he added. “It is where the game begins and it is important that clubs and communities have the funding to cover the basic needs and development of youngsters, as well as building that community spirit.
“I started out at Under-9s with St Clears in West Wales, moved on to Whitland RFC, they are the two grassroots clubs that I played for and it was a massive part of my upbringing and development. It is a really important part of your rugby career.”
Sale had an incredibly successful season last year as they finished sixth in Aviva Premiership Rugby to secure a European Rugby Champions Cup spot.
But Phillips sees no reason why his new team can’t do even better this time around.
“I am very driven still and I want to win games, it is nice to be in a quality side like Sale and be given a chance to do that,” said Phillips.
“The guys did really well last year, had a great home record and qualifying for the European Cup was massive.
“We are trying to equal that and maybe go a few places up the board, that would be great but we are under no illusions, it is going to be very, very tough.
“We are all going to have to keep working hard, plugging away each training session.”
Premiership Rugby and the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby Clubs are supporting the Aviva Community Fund, a nationwide initiative which offers funding of up to £25,000 to grassroots sports clubs and other community organisations close to your heart. Enter at aviva.co.uk/community-fund from September 13.