I highly doubt you will find anyone connected with Cardiff Rugby that does not want to see 23 men in blue and black ready to do battle with reigning French and European champions Toulouse at the Arms Park next week.
From those players available to take the field next Saturday, to the coaches tasked with whipping them into shape, the commercial team counting up a potential sell-out and the supporters who live for huge European games like this, there is a huge appetite to get this re-run of the 1995/96 Heineken Cup Final on the go.
It of course would come at the end of two of the toughest weeks in the club’s history where 48 players and staff were stuck in South Africa after the country was added to the UK’s red travel list, sparking a shambolic few days as the party was prevented from flying back to the country on multiple occasions amid a shocking lack of support from the Welsh Government.
Eventually 42 members of that travelling party have made it to England, and are now isolating for 10 days in a Heathrow hotel, with a further six still in South Africa having tested positive for covid-19 as work continues to get them home to their families and friends as soon as possible.
All of those players and staff isolating wherever they are would also no doubt love to see a Cardiff side take the field against Toulouse, with the fight shown by those wearing the jersey giving them a boost on the way towards the light at the end of their quarantine tunnels.
However, I do feel the need just to urge caution and not let hearts rule heads as we get closer to the fixture. Player safety must be the ultimate priority.
Now this isn’t me telling anyone what to do; as the management team have shown at the Arms Park this week they are more than capable of doing, and committed to, their jobs, while the coaches at the academy know their players inside and out.
It’s just a general reminder message for everyone that playing the game at any cost is not an option here, and to bear that in mind if and when any announcements are made this week.
The problem Cardiff have got is that with 32 players isolating in England or South Africa, plus seven injuries, one suspended and three players doubtful in the remaining squad, we potentially only have 23 fit players in our squad of 66 players currently registered with Heineken Champions Cup organisers EPCR, and of them only four are front rowers.
In those four are Rhys Barratt, either 18 or just turned 19 years old who has a handful of games for Cardiff Met University RFC plus one competitive game for the Rags, and Nathan Evans, 19 years old, who has two competitive games for the Rags.
Now there is an argument that says “they’re registered so they’re ready to play”, but to my eyes they have been registered for a worse case scenario in a single position. For example, if tighthead prop suffered an injury crisis then a front row of Rhys Carre, Kirby Myhill and Nathan Evans, with Seb Davies and Matthew Screech pushing behind, would be a manageable scrum scenario.
Where we are currently we could end up with a front row of Barratt, Iestyn Harris as a young hooker and Evans, with a second row of part-time locks Sam Moore or Alun Lawrence, and Rhys Anstey, who would be making his competitive first team debut, pushing behind.
With Cyril Baille, one of the best looseheads in the world in my opinion, Julien Marchand, first choice France hooker, and Charlie Faumuina, a 50-cap All Black, in the Toulouse ranks it’s a match-up that is so uneven that the safety of the players has to be called into question.
EPCR have of course extended the unlimited player registration window the for the clubs until Wednesday, but that does not just mean Cardiff can turn to the Rags as an answer. Even someone like Thomas Davies has not trained or played at the professional level for three-and-a-half years, while they have day jobs that they need to secure time off from too. Evan Yardley, for example, is a school teacher.
The Blue and Blacks should therefore be looking towards loans from other clubs, but with a minimum of four players required to ensure that there are six front rowers available plus travelling reserves against Toulouse, issues around minimum contract lengths and cup tying, plus each club having games of their own to fulfil, this will not be easy.
As we know the management team at the Arms Park will work tirelessly to ensure that every avenue is explored in order to get the game on, but while that continues let’s all bear in mind that there are a number of hurdles to overcome before we take the field against Toulouse.
Everyone would love this fixture to take place, but player safety simply cannot be compromised.