Adam Jones' return is big shot in the arm for Ospreys
THE Ospreys' Heineken Cup and Pro12 ambitions have been handed a timely shot in the arm with the earlier than expected return of Wales and British Lions prop Adam Jones.
Jones wasn't initially due to make his comeback from a knee injury until the new year.
However, after coming through a fitness test yesterday, the cornerstone of three Welsh Grand Slams has been named on the bench for this afternoon's Heineken Cup clash against Toulouse in Swansea.
If Jones does comes through unscathed against the four-times champions of Europe, he is set to start in the Boxing Day derby against the Scarlets as the defending Pro12 champions look to overhaul their rivals in the race for the play-off spots.
"It's a big boost," said Ospreys backs coach Gruff Rees. "You want to use every resource you have, and Adam is obviously a valuable resource."
Jones hasn't played since aggravating a knee problem against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in October. His absence, coupled with injuries to Joe Rees and Aaron Jarvis, prompted head coach Steve Tandy to send an SOS to ex-All Black Campbell Johnstone — who again starts against Toulouse — and former Ospreys prop Cai Griffiths, on loan from London Irish.
His return will also be a welcome fillip for Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley, who is sweating over a number of key players ahead of the Six Nations opener against Ireland in February.
As well as Jones, the Ospreys are also able to recall Wales hooker Richard Hibbard to the starting XV.
Hibbard has shown remarkable powers of recovery following the shoulder injury he suffered in the bruising defeat to Samoa in Cardiff last month.
Last weekend's defeat to Toulouse in the south west of France means the Ospreys are up against it in terms of qualification for the latter stages of Europe.
But Rees is refusing to accept the region's chance has gone.
"With our next two Heineken Cup fixtures here at the Liberty, it gives us a great opportunity to really put ourselves back in the mix," he said.
"There's everything still to play for in the pool, and we know that if we can get the performance levels right in these games against Toulouse and then Leicester next month, then anything can happen and we could be going into the final round of fixtures with qualification hopes very much still alive."
Toulouse, meanwhile, have recalled 2011 IRB player of the year Thierry Dusautoir to their star-studded line-up.
Ospreys: R. Fussell; Ross Jones, A. Bishop, A. Beck, E. Walker; D. Biggar, K. Fotuali'i (capt); R. Bevington, R. Hibbard, C. Johnstone, I. Gough, Ryan Jones, J. Bearman, J. Tipuric. Reps: S. Baldwin, D. Jones, A. Jones, L. Peers, G. Stowers, R. Webb, M. Morgan, T. Isaacs
Toulouse: M. Medard; V. Clerc, Y. David, G. Fickou, Y. Huget; J-M Doussain, L. Burgess; V. Kakovin, G. Botha, C. Johnston, Y. Maestri, P. Albacete, J. Bouilhou (capt), L. Picamoles, T. Dusautoir. Reps: C. Tolofua, J-B. Poux, Y. Montes, R. Millo-Chluski, Y. Nyanga, G. Lamboley, Y. Jauzion, S. Bezy.