The last twelve months have been pretty special in the life of Nick Phipps.
On Sunday morning the 22-year-old halfback was selected in the 40-man Wallabies squad for the 2011 Tri-Nations, the bulk of which will also comprise the Australian World Cup squad. This time last year the Sydney University Colt was making the transition to the Australian Sevens team that would eventually secure silver at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. On his return, Phipps would quickly establish himself as the starting number nine for the brand new RaboDirect Rebels, finishing this debut season of Super Rugby as the Australian Conference Rookie of the Year and taking home the Rebels’ own Players Award.
Despite such a momentous few months, the typically modest Fanga was still unprepared when the announcement was made that he would be in the Wallabies Tri-Nations squad.
“I’m extremely happy about the call-up,” he said. “For a while there I didn’t think it was going to happen so it was a big relief to see my name on the screen this morning.”
“I never really listen to the hype or speculation about me. It’s flattering hearing people say things but there are lots of other players out there who have their supporters so you never really know what’s going on in the minds of the selectors. I just try and judge my own performance and there were stages this year where I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Phipps at least has one previous squad announcement to look back on and compare his current experience to, though his career is at a much different stage to what it was back then.
“Last year was just a massive shock,” he explained. “I didn’t really see it coming at all. I was just happy with a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and playing sevens. This time I knew I was in the arena where it could happen so I’ve been trying my hardest to perform well for the Rebels all year and hopefully making the Wallabies squad at the end of it.”
From the outside, most commentators will suggest that Phipps is competing with the Waratahs’ Luke Burgess for the back-up halfback position in the Australian squad, with the Reds’ Will Genia a shoo-in for the number nine jersey. Not that Phipps is approaching his call-up so conservatively.
“Will had an amazing year and credit to him for doing so well,” Phipps said. “But it wouldn’t be right for me to go into a squad just looking to be the back-up nine, and I couldn’t live with myself if I just did that, so I’ll go out there and give it a red hot crack and push myself as hard as I can. I know Will’s likely to be there in the end but I’ve still got to do my best.”
“I haven’t set any personal goals. I’m just delighted to be selected in the squad and getting into camp and doing my best there. After that, whatever happens, happens.”
There will be at least one face familiar to Phipps in the Wallabies squad after 28-year-old Mark Gerrard received a stunning call-up after four years away from the side. “When I saw Gerrardo’s name I was rapt,” Phipps said. “He’s played so well all year and he’s definitely been one of the best players the Rebels have had and, more importantly, he’s a really good bloke to have in the camp and be around.”
Both Phipps and Gerrard have benefited from Australia enjoying a fifth side in Super Rugby this year: the RaboDirect Rebels. Direct of Coaching, Rod Macqueen, said from the outset that the addition of an extra Australian side will provide greater opportunities for young Australian players to push their cases at international level. 22-year-old Phipps appreciates the opportunities the additional franchise has afforded and is happy his decision to move south has paid off so handsomely.
“When I signed my first Rebels contract there wasn’t anything else around, so I really took a punt. Once I spoke to people involved I really wanted to come down and wanted to be part of it and if I hadn’t done that there would be no chance I’d be having the opportunity to go to a World Cup,” he said.
Always the team player, Phipps did not want to sign off without paying tribute to the teammates that he has shared the last year with and who have helped him earn his Wallabies call-up.
“I want to thank all the Rebels players,” Phipps said. “We’ve become a bit of a family down here in Melbourne and without those boys by my side all year there’s definitely no way I would have had such a fun year and such a good year with the Rebels.”
The Wallabies take on Samoa on Sunday July 17 at 2pm at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Australia’s first Tri-Nations encounter is against the Springboks on Saturday July 23 at 8pm at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.