Player shortage prompts talk of Six Nations switch
THE Ospreys are facing their worst player- availability crisis in seven years with Jonathan Humphreys suggesting it is time to consider shifting the Six Nations to the end of the season.
The Liberty Stadium region have been preparing for the Pro12 game with Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday evening minus 28 players when international calls, injuries and suspensions are taking into account.
The picture could improve if certain players pass fitness tests or are released back by Wales, but 26 were missing for the game against Edinburgh last weekend and Humphreys says it is overdue for drastic action.
"If the format remains that we fund international rugby players and some of them we get for fewer than ten games a season even though we are paying their wages, I think it makes sense that the Six Nations is played at the end of the campaign," said Humphreys.
"We need these players playing for us. There's a huge amount of rugby that's played when these boys are away.
"It just doesn't make sense."
The situation is barely fair on not only the regions but also their supporters, who invest in season tickets yet spend much of the season watching patched-up sides playing against similarly depleted opponents.
The regions have been acutely hit this term because they have all streamlined their squads and so lack the depth of some of their rivals from other countries.
But the broadcasters evidently relish having the Six Nations played over February and March, so it is set to be the case that regions, clubs and provinces have to get on with things.
"We have been without 28 players over the past few days but we are looking to go to Munster on Saturday night and show the same spirit and fight as we have shown in the past three weeks," said Humphreys.
"If we do that, hopefully we'll get something from there.
"But I've been here seven years and it's never been like this.
"You couple it with the players who left last year and haven't been replaced and it's really, really tight in terms of players we can put out."
The Ospreys' problems are multiplied because they supply Wales with so many key forwards, with six members of their pack possible starters for Murrayfield a week on Saturday and another Liberty Stadium front rower, Ryan Bevington, set to be on the bench if Gethin Jenkins fails to recover from his calf injury.
They are also without Dan Biggar.
Under those circumstances, winning two out of three league games in this period has been a huge effort, according to Humphreys.
"The boys deserve a huge amount of credit," he said.
"I know the talk is that we're disappointed we didn't get a bonus point against Edinburgh last week, but we have to work so hard to score tries in games because the patched-up nature of our squad means we don't possess too many people who can finish.
"So everything is about hard work and working hard for each other, about being disciplined in defence and disciplined in how we want to play. A huge amount of credit needs to go to these boys, who have worked their guts out in every single game to get something from it."
Humphreys isn't expecting the region's squad strength to improve imminently. "We'd love to strengthen in the summer, but there is no money," he said. "There is no money at all for us (the regions). That stems from the fact that we have the least funding of anybody. So there is no money for us to go and strengthen.
"Of course it's frustrating, especially when you are judged by what you win and how you perform in major competitions and everybody else in those competition has more money than you to strengthen their squads. Glasgow have gone on a hell of a run simply because of the strength of their squad — it's huge. Leinster will be the same, Munster next year will have the ability to bring in more players. Everyone is going to get stronger.
"I can't see the situation improving (in Wales). And that is a worry."