THE Ospreys go in search of a Heineken Cup miracle in Toulouse this weekend with Jonathan Humphreys declaring there must be changes for the regions to do themselves justice in the tournament.
The Pro12 champions will head into one of European rugby’s most daunting assignments on the back of just two full training sessions.
They had their first drill yesterday and will have another tomorrow, with many of their players bruised, battered and sidelined having been involved with Wales during the autumn series.
The casualty rate is particularly high in the front five, with Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Richard Hibbard and Aaron Jarvis all ruled out after their exertions at Test level over the past month, while fly-half Dan Biggar is rated as having a 50-50 chance of playing.
And with the Australia game last Saturday further biting into preparations, Humphreys believes the regions are finding the odds heavily stacked against them on the stage where they are judged.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a coach and I have to play the cards I have been dealt,” he said ahead of Saturday’s game.
“But for Welsh regions to have a real crack at this tournament, there’s got to be more prep time going into it.
“We suffered last year when we were in a decent position going into Saracens back to back. They turned out to be seven-point games. So those little things matter.
“However much money that Australian game made for the regions, getting into European quarter-finals would make a lot more.
“It’s not for me to say whether Wales are playing one game too many in the autumn. If I had my way it would be four games too many. I’d like to see a situation where competitions start and finish in one hit. That would be perfect for us.
“When you play two Heineken Cup rounds, then lose your players for five weeks, then play another two European games, everyone loses momentum.”
Humphreys continued: “When you lose the majority of your pack over the course of the autumn internationals and you have only a couple of sessions to prepare, of course it’s not ideal.
“We knew this would be a challenge, going out to face the greatest European team, who boast a vast amount of resources and have had more time to prepare to play against us, at a time when we have injuries.
“But there’s no point anyone feeling sorry.”
Former All Black Campbell Johnstone, signed on Monday to cover for the crocked Adam Jones, Aaron Jarvis and Joe Rees, was introduced to the squad yesterday and the plan is for Dimitri Arhip to provide bench cover in Toulouse.
“We are trying to get Campbell up to speed on things in the space of a session,” said Humphreys.
“Dimitri was signed as a hooker but he will fill in as a prop.
“We have no back-up. We are just very, very lucky Campbell hadn’t played European rugby this season. We’ve moved heaven and earth to get him here — if we didn’t have him we’d be in a mess.”
Humphreys reported Hibbard was keen to get back quickly despite suffering an “unbelievable” shoulder injury against Samoa, while Biggar faces a fitness check.
“We hold out hope on Dan,” said Humphreys.
“We have to go through the tests to make sure he is right to go.
“He’s 50-50 — there’s a good chance he’ll be all right.”