Updated: Friday, 06 December 2013 03:02 | By Agence France-Presse

Phillips faces fight for Racing place

Mike Phillips may be first choice scrum-half for Wales and also enjoyed that position for the British and Irish Lions in Australia in June, but he faces a battle to earn the No.9 shirt at new club Racing-Metro.

Phillips faces fight for Racing place

Wales' Mike Phillips (up) tackles South Africa's Jean de Villiers during an international Rugby Union test match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on November 9, 2013

That is the verdict of Racing backs coach Laurent Labit, who can count on French international scrum-half Maxime Machenaud amongst his squad.

Phillips joined Racing earlier this week having been sacked by French Top 14 rivals Bayonne at the end of September for allegedly turning up to a video training session under the influence of alcohol -- a charge he denies.

"I had no issues with alcohol," Phillips insisted on Thursday, at his official presentation as a Racing player.

However, he acknowledges he faces a fight to earn his place, regardless of his playing reputation.

"I intend to play here but obviously I've got to work hard to get into the team," he added.

And Labit has left him in no doubt that he will not walk straight into the starting line-up.

"We know that Mike is not just someone who works hard but he's a competitor, he's a great player, he's world level, we know what he can bring us," said Labit.

"What was important (in signing him) was the reaction of our players, we spoke with Max (Machenaud) who's the principle interested party, but he's someone who saw it as a very positive thing.

"Phillips's experience will be very good for Max, it's clear we couldn't continue as we had been with Max playing 80 minutes every match.

"He's had two injuries since the start of the season and because of that he missed the November internationals.

"Right now he's the best scrum-half I've got in my squad and has been since the beginning of the season, whether that's still the case in two months, we'll see."

Labit is delighted to have Phillips in the squad, though, and also defended the Welshman over allegations about his drinking.

"I don't need to introduce Mike Phillips, when you have 80 caps for Wales and given what they've done these last few years, and playing for the Lions, he deserves a lot of respect for what he's done in rugby.

"Of course when you represent Racing there are certain standards. Everyone knows about what happened at Bayonne but that happens at all clubs."

Phillips was reticent when it came to discussing his sacking and subsequent suing of Bayonne, insisting that he now just wants to look forward.

"I'm a rugby player and it's important for me to concentrate out there on the pitch and in the gym, and that's what I'm focussing on.

"There are things going on outside that but I just have to focus on rugby and that's what I've been doing."

Having spent the last two years at a team fighting for survival at the wrong end of the table, Phillips is looking forward to the challenge of representing a team with lofty ambitions.

"I'm delighted to come here, it's a fantastic team, they've got massive ambition, a fantastic squad, new coaches. It's a great experience so it's a great challenge for me and I'm really excited."

Having made the decision to leave Welsh domestic rugby in 2011 to accept the bigger salary on offer in France, Phillips said he understands why so many other Wales internationals are likewise leaving their homeland, with news Thursday that Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard is set to become the latest exile, with Gloucester mooted as a possible destination.

"A lot of players are leaving Wales but I think it's not the players' fault," said Phillips.

"They have to take the best opportunities for them and that's the way it's going.

"As players you have to make the most of your career and play at the best clubs alongside the best players.

"It's up to the individual what he wants. I played 10 years in Wales and came out to France. I always wanted to sample it, I was a big fan of French rugby as a kid growing up."

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