Cardiff have been explaining just how they have managed to piece together a team to take on holders Toulouse in Saturday’s Champions Cup opener at the Arms Park.

They are without no fewer than 32 players who are quarantining in either London or Cape Town following the troubled trip to South Africa.

On top of that, there are others who are out injured or suspended, such as Josh Navidi, Rhys Gill, Mason Grady and the banned Rey Lee Lo.

But they have been determined to fulfil the fixture against the European champions if at all possible and they have managed to secure sufficient numbers to do just that.

In fact, they now have 32 players preparing for the game which is set to attract a bumper crowd to the Arms Park.

That group is made up of Wales stars who didn’t make the trip to South Africa after their exploits in the autumn internationals, other senior players, Academy youngsters and semi-pros.

Crucially, they have been able to provide sufficient front row cover, which has been the main issue to address over the past week.

So just who is set to face Toulouse?

Well, to start with, there are the six Wales squad members who stayed at home – Josh Adams, Willis Halaholo, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Dillon Lewis and Seb Davies and – with news pending on the fitness of prop Lewis, who has had a foot problem.

Then you’ve got James Botham, who is available again after shoulder surgery and a heel injury, while fellow back rower Olly Robinson hadn’t travelled to South Africa as he was released to play for the Barbarians in an ultimately aborted Twickenham clash with Samoa.

There’s seasoned fly-half Jason Tovey, plus forwards Sam Moore and Alun Lawrence, who have both had regional game time.

Then you have got youngsters who have recently come into the senior squad like hooker Iestyn Harris and prop Will Davies-King.

Plus there’s the cream of the Academy crop in full-back Jacob Beetham, wing Theo Cabango, second row Rhys Anstey, back rower Alex Mann, centre Ioan Evans and full-back Cameron Winnett who are all in the mix to feature against the French aristocrats.

Last but not least there are the semi-pro players. There is a obvious one in the ultra versatile back Dan Fish, who is set to come out of retirement from pro rugby for a second time, bringing his 115 games of regional experience to the fore.

Fish’s Cardiff RFC team-mate, flanker Alex Everett, is adding to the back row options, while other, as yet unnamed semi-pros have also been drafted in, particularly to bolster the front row.

With Dai Young and the first-team support staff also in hotel quarantine in Crawley, the coaching is being headed up by Academy manager Gruff Rees, who is being assisted by former Welsh internationals TR Thomas and Richie Rees.

Rees – the former Ospreys attack coach – has been explaining how a “slightly misfit group” has been put together to face Toulouse.

“The last couple of weeks we have had the core group of players who were left behind,” he said.

“Then we added players to that last week to make 16-18, with a couple of fringe guys.

“Now, this week, we have gone out to 32.

“So this, for us, is a normal training week in terms of numbers.

“Obviously the demographic of the numbers is different, but we have had two really good intense sessions which I would akin to what professional rugby standards should be about.”

On the fresh faces, he said: “You are going to have young players coming in making their debuts, people like Theo Cabango and Jacob Beetham.

“Then you’ve got other boys who will be in the mix, people like Rhys Anstey, Ioan Evans, Cameron Winnett and probably a few other around the fringes as travelling reserves. They will all be involved in some way.

Second row Rhys Anstey during training preparing to take on Toulouse

“A lot of the youngsters train with the seniors periodically anyway. We drop them in and out in terms of supporting what Dai wants but also around their development.

“Some of them come in and are perhaps a little bit more naive and not quite sure who they are up against from the pro game. That could be the beauty of this week. They will certainly know come Saturday afternoon, but ignorance is bliss for a few of them.

“We just want to back them to get on the ball and show how good they can be.

“There are also people like Iestyn Harris and Will Davies-King, who have just come out of the Academy, those type of guys, transition players who we have felt for a while can make a mark on the pro game. We just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Turning to the semi-pro players, he said: “Alex Everett is an obvious example, someone who has been in that pathway with Cardiff University and is Cardiff RFC captain this year. He will be in the mix.

“There are a couple of others as well. I won’t go into names as I have got a couple of different things on registration stuff that I need to go through. We have got a few contingencies.

“We haven’t brought anyone in on loan from another pro team. We have gone down the route of a couple of the best semi-pro guys we could get.”

As for the situation in terms of front row cover, Rees said: “That’s been the number one consideration on the chats I have had the last seven days.

“We have got to a point where we are confident and think we have the best well-rounded people from semi-pro who have been around our environment from before.

“So we think they can do the job.”

Reflecting generally on the events of the past week or so, Rees said: “It is a surreal situation all round.

“It has been really tricky, and obviously our thoughts are with the players and staff who have had to endure such difficult times, and trying to give them as much support as possible.

Hooker Iestyn Harris on the burst in training

“We want to seize the opportunity that goes with it. We can’t hide away from the fact that it could be a daunting task against the best in the business, but one that actually can bring the best out of everyone. We have got some class acts here.

“I am speaking to Dai daily at the moment, but to be fair to him, he hasn’t tried to micro-manage me or this whole process. He has backed us to look at it.

“Hopefully, we can have a great day for the club and to lift the gloom during what has been a tricky period.

“We have a slightly misfit group coming together. There’s less pressure, but we’ve got that responsibility that whoever is on the field we are representing a great rugby club in a great competition.

“We will be looking to thrive off the support of the crowd. We really need that 16th man mentality to get behind us and get a bit of atmosphere.”

With so many of the players who have been turning out for Cardiff RFC this season having been called up to the regional ranks, the Premiership club side have postponed their game against Llanelli.





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