NEWPORT Gwent Dragons’ playing budget has been increased for next season and they have entered the market to sign a top class international tighthead in the coming months.

And it is understood they are confident the Welsh Rugby Union will not downgrade one of the four regions to development status, despite Union boss Roger Lewis saying that was an option.

Chief executive Lewis has suggested one of the quartet could be demoted after the miserable form of the Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and Ospreys in the Heineken Cup in recent years and the Dragons languishing in the second rate Amlin Challenge Cup.

The idea of the Dragons being reduced to a development side is not new but the region do not believe their status will diminish and are confident they have the support of the Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets.

The regions have long held a united front and believe that four equals is the best way forward for Welsh rugby.

This, and the news that the struggling region is looking to pursue a more ambitious recruitment policy to help revive their fortunes, will be welcomed by the Rodney Parade faithful.

Dragons director of rugby Rob Beale has confirmed they are scouring the world in the hope of bringing star props, half backs and centres to Rodney Parade.

Tighthead props from South Africa, Argentina, France and Georgia are potential targets.

And Beale also admitted the Gwent region had “not recruited well enough in certain areas” in the past but added they need to bring in quality experienced operators to help develop their crop of promising young players.

The Dragons have won just three times in the league this season and their only two other victories came against Italian semi-professional minnows Mogliano in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

The scrum has long been an Achilles’ heel for the region.

And with blindside flanker Dan Lydiate leaving at the end of this campaign, probably for Racing Métro, to join other ex-Dragons stars Luke Charteris and Aled Brew plying their trade in France, the region badly need an influx of quality players.

“The board have increased the rugby playing budget for next season – that in itself is a very positive message,” Beale said.

“In terms of the ambition for recruitment, I think that there will be a change of emphasis.”

The availability of more cash, Beale refused to disclose how much would be on the table, will give head coach Darren Edwards far more spending power.

“Darren, certainly in the past 12-18 months, has been put in a position where recruitment has been difficult and we’ve tended to look at young, developing players,” Beale said.

“Any players we do recruit that are not Welsh really have to be quality players and probably in the past we’ve not recruited well enough in certain areas when we’ve done that.

“But there is a genuine desire here by our board and from everyone connected with the Dragons to put as much effort as we can into making sure we get it right.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent here and we need to make sure we support them with some experienced players in key positions. They can make sure that talent gets every opportunity of fulfilling their obvious potential as professional rugby players with the Dragons and hopefully go on to represent our country.”

Expanding on the focus of their recruitment drive, Beale said: “Front row positions are key, half back, midfield – those key decision makers.

“If you need a strong scrum then you need really strong scrummaging props.

“At the moment we’ve got three tighthead props in our squad who are all contracted for next season.

“Two of those guys are really young in front row terms, being both around 22, so it’s certainly an area we are looking at.

“Realistically for that sort of position, we are looking outside Wales.

“We feel we’ve got two bright young prospects in Dan Way and Nathan Buck and if you’re looking for a really experienced player in that position, then at the moment they are not in Wales, and if they are, they are contracted.”

Beale added: “And if you are looking at scrummaging front row forwards, then the obvious areas that spring to mind are Argentina, South Africa and France, some would probably say Georgia.”

He hinted they could be “marquee” signings: “That body of work is gathering momentum over the next couple of months.

“Very often the word ‘marquee’ signings is used. I think all I would say at the moment is that we’ve got to be looking to fill those crucial positions within our team with some very experienced players who have played at the top level. I’m not going to go into figures but…it is a big bonus for Darren in terms of recruitment.”