Tito Tebaldi is last scrum-half standing at the Ospreys
TITO Tebaldi is the last specialist scrum-half standing at the Ospreys after injury took Tom Habberfield out of the region's plans for the opening stage of the season.
Habberfield could face up to eight weeks on the sidelines in the wake of damaging ankle ligaments during training.
The highly promising youngster joins Rhys Webb (knee) on the casualty list, leaving Tebaldi well and truly on the front line, with part-time No. 9s Tom Grabham and Tom Isaacs acting as scrum-half cover.
The Ospreys could have done without a significant injury ahead of their opening hit-out, but new forwards coach Chris Gibbes put a brave face on things ahead of the game with Worcester Warriors at the Liberty on Saturday afternoon (3).
"You have to take a solutions approach to everything," he said. "The next guy who gets an opportunity is going to have to step up.
"Tito will have a fair bit of work ahead of him, but he looks good and has been taking on the work we have done around the new scrum feed, which is going to be important.
"Whoever comes in and fills that second scrum-half role has a job to do."
It is a cruel cut for Habberfield, the 21-year-old who spent much of last season acting as an emergency wing, with Eli Walker and Hanno Dirksen sidelined by injuries. He would have been hoping to use the early weeks of the season to make a play for the No. 9 jersey.
But now he could be out until the end of October, with head physio Chris Towers explaining: "Tom damaged ligaments in his ankle in training at the end of last week and we were able to confirm the extent of the damage through a scan on Monday.
"Based on previous experience we could expect to see him return in around six to eight weeks."
The good news for the Ospreys is that Walker is fit after his long-term back problem and starts against the Warriors.
It will be the lightning-quick wing's first outing since he terrorised Leicester with his pace in the Heineken Cup pool encounter in Swansea in January.
Joining him in the side led by Tom Smith is Canadian wide-man Jeff Hassler, who makes his debut along with Tebaldi.
After so long without genuine pace on the flanks, the Ospreys are relieved to have their back-three firepower at least partially restored.
"There's some excitement there," said Gibbes.
"Both of them are looking forward to getting on the pitch and getting ball in hand. We're excited about what these two will bring."
Gibbes is new to the scene himself, having arrived from Waikato to replace Jonathan Humphreys earlier this summer.
He is going to have to do without Ryan Jones tomorrow, with the back rower still recovering from a lower-leg injury, and the Ospreys will be minus their five Lions for the first three weeks or so of the season.
But Gibbes is looking forward to the challenge, saying he had gleaned only positives after his first few weeks with the region's squad.
"I've been pretty impressed," he said.
"The range of players is good. Not only do we have experienced people but we have young guys coming through. The future looks good, but first and foremost I think we have a team that's going to be really competitive in all competitions this season.
"Will the youngsters be able to hold the fort until the Lions get back? They have to, mate. I've been impressed with them. They're all keen to learn and go well. We've all been young once and there's going to be the odd mistake, but they've got to do the job. It's as simple as that."
Gibbes has landed in Wales after a successful spell in New Zealand, including a four-year stint as coach of the Waikato ITM Cup team. "A number of things attracted me to the Ospreys," he said.
"I like the parallels with Waikato as a club who have to cut their coat to suit their cloth to make things work.
"I think they realise what's needed rather than wanted — and there's a big difference there.
"I'm also looking forward to working with a coaching staff that wants to play and has a positive approach to the game.
"Also, there's the point that the squad is so diverse, with lots of experience and a lot of young guys as well."
It all starts against Worcester: new faces, a fresh kit, but the age-old need to make a positive opening.
"It should be a good hit-out," said Gibbes. "We're all looking forward to it."
Ospreys: R. Fussell; J. Hassler, B. John, A. Beck, E. Walker; D. Biggar, T. Tebaldi; R. Bevington, S. Baldwin, J. Rees, S. Williams, J. King, T. Smith, J. Bearman, S. Lewis. Reps: M. Dwyer, M. Thomas, D. Arhip, I. Gough, R. Hughes, A. Ellis, D. Baker, M. Morgan, J. Spratt, T. Isaacs, T. Grabham, Ross Jones.
Worcester Warriors (tba).