Gruff Rees has called on Cardiff Rugby to embrace the formidable challenge ahead as they prepare to face reigning European champions Toulouse with more than 32 players unavailable.
The Blue and Blacks kick-off their Heineken Champions Cup on the back of a chaotic two weeks in which a travelling party of 48 were stranded in South Africa following the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Six individuals remain in South Africa after testing positive, while 42 returned to the UK on Friday and are now in the midst of a 10-day quarantine at a Government Covid-19 hotel.
Clearly anyone involved in the United Rugby Championship trip to South Africa will remain in quarantine as Europe gets underway while a further five senior squad members are currently injured or suspended.
But Rees, who is leading the team in Dai Young’s absence, has assembled a squad to take on the French and European champions, made up of internationals and other senior players who did not travel, academy prospects and semi-professionals from the Welsh Premiership.
He admits it has been a very surreal, difficult and unprecedented few weeks but he is now ready to unleash a “misfit group” with nothing to lose at the Arms Park.
Rees said: “It's just a surreal all round really and it's been tough for everyone who's been involved in the travel, but also the logistics of trying to organise stuff behind the scenes - Gafyn Cooper the team manager, Richard Holland this end and everyone else associated with that.
"It's been really tricky and obviously our thoughts are with the playing and the staff who have had to endure such difficult times really.
"We're trying to give them as much support as possible and we feel the best support we can give them is to give them a boost this week with putting our best foot forward.
“It’s a challenge but we want to see the opportunity that goes with it, the excitement that young players will get an opportunity that perhaps in normal circumstances they may not have for six months, nine months or a year or so.
"So that gives them a chance to really have a crack against the best in the business and we can't hide away from the fact that it could be a daunting task, but one that actually can bring the best out of everyone who's remaining here.
"That's one of the exciting features for all of us involved, really - young players coming in making their debut; people like Theo Cabango, Jacob Beetham - to thrive off the support of the crowd.
"We really need that 16th man mentality to get behind us, get a bit of atmosphere, promote a style of play where we want to play some good rugby on the day and I think we've looked at that sort of opportunity with the players and the senior boys are excited around that.
"Ellis [Jenkins], Josh [Adams] have been part of the whole process and thinking that they can lead something special and it may not be in terms of a winning performance - that might be well beyond us. But we'll do our damnedest to play some real good rugby and bring some.
“Talk about strength through unity - it's all of us tying together: players, staff, supporters - we can have a great day of Cardiff rugby."
Rees, who is being assisted by regular senior coaches Richie Rees and T Rhys Thomas has been pleased with the level of training this week and has benefitted from having sufficient numbers to run team sessions as normal.
He added: ”A lot of the youngsters train with the seniors periodically anyway. We drop them in and out in terms of supporting what Dai wants but also around their development. Some of them come in and are perhaps a little bit more naive and not quite sure who they are up against from the pro game.
"That could be the beauty of this week. They will certainly know come Saturday afternoon, but ignorance is bliss for a few of them. They can come in and we just want to back them to get on the ball and show how good they can be.
“Something I'm always looking at is alignment between academy and semi-pro. We have a different model here at Cardiff Rugby.
"So, from the most absurd circumstances we've actually got another chance to embrace the model we are doing by everyone being in the same building together.
“There's less pressure in some ways but we've got that responsibility that whoever is on the field we are representing a great rugby club in a great competition.
"Weighing it all up we see that as a positive experience.”