Ospreys: Influential Ryan Jones really is up for the cup
MULTIPLE injuries, an autumn series whitewash for Wales, hard-up regions, players off to France — you don't need to be Frasier Crane to appreciate why a cloud of gloom has settled over Welsh rugby this season.
Depression has been the name of the game, the condition not helped by the national coach heading off to lead the Lions and the continued uncertainty that afflicts regional rugby.
But perennial English heavyweights Leicester are in town this weekend for a Heineken Cup encounter that offers the Ospreys the chance to not just keep alive their European hopes for the campaign but also provide the game in Wales with a significant tonic ahead of the Six Nations, a point not lost on Ryan Jones, who, after a decade at the top of Welsh rugby, could probably write a thesis on the yo-yo nature of the Welsh psyche.
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"This weekend is hugely important for Welsh rugby," said Jones.
"It would be great to get a win to go into other competitions.
"We have the Six Nations coming up and it's the confidence that guys take from experiences like this that grows and multiplies when you put them in another environment. Those sorts of things are important, especially at the start of a campaign. A win would be great."
The 70-cap Wales forward hopes the Liberty Stadium will be rocking for a game against opponents whose first commandment has forever been Thou Shalt Not Lose Easily.
How much of a boost a big crowd gives the Pro12 champions could be seen on Boxing Day when the home players produced a ferociously committed display against the Scarlets.
"We need to have good vocal crowds and put on good spectacles," said Jones.
"It's a little bit of light.
"It's all about people having a positive rugby experience again, fans having a good time and believing.
"Let's try and strive to be a European heavyweight. That's what the goal and ambition is.
"We want to be a club that people don't want to draw in the Heineken Cup and don't want to come to the Liberty and play.
"Once you achieve that, it's almost job done, I suppose."
Jones will be crucial to the Ospreys' cause this weekend.
He is one of the players who shapes every Ospreys performance, whether by achieving turnovers, tackling, carrying or simply making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown.
Matches unfold around most players, but not around the 31-year-old blindside.
He sets out to impose himself on events, rather than let events engulf him.
When he plays well, the Ospreys play well.
When your side also has two controlling half-backs like Kahn Fotuali'i and Dan Biggar they will always have a chance.
But the Ospreys appreciate the size of the challenge they are facing this weekend.
"It doesn't get bigger than Leicester at home and a must-win game," said Jones.
"It's been all the talk for us this week. We know what the challenge is.
"You are pitting yourself against a European heavyweight in your own back yard. This was why the competition was created so you have these fixtures.
"It's one the fans love. Hopefully, they will turn up in their droves to come and watch.
"And, hopefully, we'll be in a position to do something special.
"Leicester have physically dominated a lot of teams in the English Premiership and we are certainly aware of the challenge they pose.
"It was no different up in Welford Road a few months back. It took its toll on us."
Jones continued: "There was a lack of experience by us in that match and I don't think our game-management was great, either. It cost us.
"That's taking nothing away from Leicester.
"Top-flight rugby now is about what you do when you get opportunities, whether they come in the first minute or the 79th. That's what makes the All Blacks the best team in the world. When they get opportunities they are incredibly clinical.
"Leicester are a team that bide their time. Rugby is an attritional game now. They got their chances late on against us and they were clinical with them.
"We played a part in our undoing. But that's sport."
Like at Welford Road in October, the scrum is going to be a key area on Sunday, with the Ospreys needing Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard and Ryan Bevington to deliver. "It's going to be huge," said Jones.
"When you've got Adam, Hibs, Ryan Bevington and two big locks, it is a tool to get you going.
"Adam does what he does. The scrum is his baby and it's a welcome sight to have him back. You want your biggest and best players available in your biggest matches.
"He's certainly one of those and worth his weight in gold."