Cardiff have been on a major recruitment drive for their European opener this past week and Ellis Jenkins has been trying to play his part.
With some 35 players unavailable for Saturday’s Champions Cup clash with Toulouse due to Covid quarantine, injuries and suspension, there has been plenty of activity going on behind the scenes to register additional players.
In particular, they have been looking for seasoned props to provide some experience up against the giants in the front row of the European champions.
Now, there’s just about no-one with more miles on the clock than Tongan tighthead Taufa’ao Filise, who made a record 255 appearances for the Arms Park-based region between 2005 and 2018.
He is now retired and working for Dragons Signs, but Jenkins really set tongues wagging on Monday when he tweeted: “Most of all, I’m just looking forward to running out with Fa’ao Filise again this weekend.”
So when the Wales flanker was up for media duties this week, the obvious question was how his efforts to lure the legendary South Seas islander on board were going.
“Funnily enough, he was here with Dragons Signs on Monday,” he revealed.
“We were going through a lineout walk-through and I shouted over to him. I said ‘oi, do you fancy a game on the weekend?’
“As he used to when he didn’t want to answer a question, he just pretended he didn’t speak English. He just sort of laughed and walked off.”
Jenkins laughed: “But speaking to him after and Nick Williams, I think they are both going to be starting on the weekend for us!”
Sadly, for all the romantics out there, that won’t be happening as the two retired forwards don’t feature in the expanded European squad which Cardiff registered by Wednesday’s noon deadline.
But they did draft in seven new players, ensuring they have sufficient numbers in all areas to fulfil the fixture against Toulouse.
“We had no idea initially whether it would go ahead,” Jenkins said.
“But then, towards the tail end of last week, it was ‘right then boys, we are going to play the game. We are going to do everything we can to get it on and see if we can get a team together’.”
That is what has now been achieved.
The match-day 23 will be a mixture of Wales stars like Jenkins, Josh Adams, Tomos Williams and Willis Halaholo, who didn’t make the trip to South Africa, other senior players, Academy youngsters and semi-pros.
“Realistically, we were underdogs when this fixture was announced, if we are being honest with ourselves,” Jenkins said.
“With all the situation that is going on, the pressure is off us completely.
“Sport is strange sometimes. It doesn’t always play out as it should.
“We have still got some stardust across our team.”
As for the youngsters who have been drafted in from the Academy, Jenkins said: “We have got to make it less daunting for them, relax them as much as we can and allow them to show what they can do.
“The last thing we want to do is overwhelm them with information or responsibility that takes away from their natural rugby ability.
“We sat down with them at the start of the week and said ‘let us do the worrying and the organising and you just go out and play’.
“We said no-one is expecting anything spectacular, but you are here for a reason and it’s an opportunity.
“I have been really impressed with them. Some of them are a bit nervous.
“But we are just trying to make it about enjoying the occasion really. It’s a huge occasion for all of us, but for some of them, in particular. A lot of the younger boys haven’t played a massive amount of rugby over the last two years, so it’s great for them.”
A near capacity crowd is expected for the game, with only around 1,000 tickets left available.
“The Arms Park is amazing, particularly in Europe,” Jenkins said.
“The stands fill up a little bit more. The only other time we see that really is derbies. Probably some of the best memories you have are European weekends.
“I still get people coming up to me talking about the Challenge Cup semi-final against Pau. It was a Saturday afternoon, it was boiling hot, the stands were full. It will be similar on the weekend.
“We have got quality in our side and it is well-documented how good Toulouse are, so hopefully the spectacle can live up to the billing.”
Jenkins has also been giving his thoughts about the 32 Cardiff players, plus staff, who have been stuck in hotel quarantine in Cape Town and Crawley following the troubled trip to South Africa.
“Thinking you are going home and getting to the airport twice and being turned round is not ideal for any of the boys,” he said.
“They have had their frustrations, but can hopefully now see light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are very lucky that we weren’t part of the touring party. You feel sorry for the boys who are out there.
“We have been trying to keep morale high if we can. We have had a bit of a laugh with some of them, sending them videos of us kicking a football around and asking how them how their holiday is going.
“It goes down well with some boys, not so well with others! I do feel for them, particularly the ones who have got young kids and families at home. It’s been tough for everyone.
“When we all had to lockdown and isolate at home, it was bad enough, but to do that in a hotel room on your own is grim.”
Finally, looking ahead to the Toulouse clash, Jenkins concluded: “There are lots of boys who would love to be playing in this game who are in a hotel room.
“We have got to try and do them justice and do as well as we can. We have got to go out and do a good job.”