Rhys Webb of intrigue as Lions set for collision

"Being in the bubble” is something rugby players talk about a lot, the protective blanket that separates them from the outside world and allows them to focus on that other familiar soundbite “controlling the controllables”.

Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb, left, and Munster centre Rory Scannell, at a Guinness PRO12 semi-final promotion.

Saracens call their particular cocoon “the iron dome”, and given their dominance in Europe the past two seasons they could call it Shirley and no-one would complain.

Ospreys, Wales and Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb is different, though.

He does not talk about the bubble but it is clear from spending time in his company that when it comes to the job of being the best player he can be, there is nothing that can penetrate his dedication to the cause.

Webb, 28, has a singular focus that does not even widen to his numerous competitors for the Wales number nine jersey. Others may view the claims of talents such as Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams, Tomos Williams and Aled Davies as providing him with the necessary pressure and impetus to improve yet the Ospreys star does not see it like that.

“I don’t really look at competition. I don’t really get worried about people, I let other people talk about what’s coming behind me,” Webb told the Irish Examiner.

“I feel that’s best for me, that if I concentrate on myself, get my job done, get my passing, my kicking, my game management, everything that’s going to make me a world-class scrum-half; if I concentrate on that and do the best I can then to the best of my ability then the rest will take care of itself.

“So I don’t look at the competition. I let other people do that.”

Presumably, the same logic applies when it comes to Lions Test rival Conor Murray, his direct opponent at Thomond Park this evening when Munster hosts the Ospreys in their Guinness Pro12 semi-final.

Not so much a head to head as a study in contrasts, the pair should dovetail well against the All Blacks this summer, Murray the likely starter with a more physical approach to take on opposition forwards and an excellent tactical kicking game with Webb the foil to come on and snipe around the fringes, keeping defences honest with bursts of acceleration. In opposition, alongside quality fly-halves in Tyler Bleyendaal and Webb’s Test half-back partner Dan Biggar, they will keep each other guessing throughout the 80 minutes.

Not that Webb is getting drawn into the personal contest, more what follows on tour.

“We’ve both got our own styles so we’ll see if we can help each other out when we come together as team-mates, definitely learn off each other and do what’s right for the team.

“A lot of people were talking about that for the Wales-Ireland game in the Six Nations,” Webb recalled of their March 10 head to head, which Murray did not finish due to the shoulder injury that sidelined him for eight weeks.

“I’m not going to look too much into the personal battle, it’s not something I do. I respect him, he’s a really good player and it’s great we’re going to be battling against each other this weekend and even greater we’re going to be team-mates, hoping to get the best out of each other and the best for the team out in New Zealand.

“So, we’ll definitely have a good crack at each other in Thomond Park but then we’ll be team-mates and hopefully bring out the best in each other.” Webb said his selection for the Lions may not sink in until his Ospreys’ business is concluded but it is clearly a source of pride for a player who has had more than his share of disappointment over the years, fitness issues restricting him to just 28 Wales caps, just less than half the number of tests Murray, four months his junior, has collected for Ireland.

“It’s been a hell of a journey. I missed out on a World Cup due to injury and I’ve had a lot of injuries during my time so I tend to just look to the weekend and take each game as it comes, give my 100% each week. It is a dream come true but the main focus at the moment is on the Munster game and we’ll see what happens from there.

“I’ve had seven major operations that have kept me out for eight or nine months, so if you add all them up it’s a massive chunk of my career.

“Every time I seem to have a good run then I get setbacks but, touch wood....

“I’m feeling good. I’ve had a good Six Nations, enjoyed every minute of it. I was disappointed where we finished up but, fine margins in those games. It’s great to be back with the Ospreys now and fighting for some silverware.”

Be part of a record attendance for the Guinness PRO12 final on May 27 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium by booking your tickets onwww.ticketmaster.ie or visit www.pro12rugby.com/final


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