CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Balance being struck in the Premiership
9:02am Thursday 5th December 2013 in Sport
BEFORE jetting off to Japan with Wales last summer Andrew Coombs was guest of honour at the Principality Premiership awards.
The Newport Gwent Dragons lock presented the player of the year award, an honour that he received in 2010, the same year that Cross Keys' Toby Faletau won best newcomer.
To the players in the room Coombs was an old sparring partner, former teammate or an example of what can be achieved with hard graft and perseverance.
After receiving hearty applause for breaking onto the Test scene and helping retain the Six Nations, the former Newport skipper expressed his surprise that the recipient of the trophy had not been given a chance at regional level.
There was the feeling that it was perhaps too late for Pontypridd lock Chris Dicomidis to get that opportunity.
But the Cyprus international from Pencoed could be going toe-to-toe with Coombs over the festive period after being handed a deal by Cardiff Blues.
Perhaps it sums up the state of Welsh rugby that members of Warren Gatland's squad are leaving the country and are being replaced by Premiership talent.
However, the Dragons have shown with Coombs, Lloyd Burns, Ross Wardle and Darren Waters that there is talent in the club scene, it's just a shame future prospects will no longer be given an opportunity alongside the best in the land.
Burns is quick to point out that he learnt a great deal from former All Black Tom Willis, who was a hugely impressive figure at Rodney Parade in challenging times.
But all the Premiership clubs can do is keep pushing players that they feel can make the step up and it is a challenge for them to get the blend right; they want to field seasoned campaigners but they also need to give the next generation a chance.
Cross Keys, who silenced the Sardis Road crowd with a sensational 38-17 win at Ponty on Tuesday, are certainly doing that well in fourth place while Newport and Bedwas are on the up after slow starts to the season.
All of them seem to be doing their bit by giving game time to bright talent like Scott Matthews, Tyler Morgan, Joe Davies, Angus O'Brien, Lewis Hudd, James Benjamin, Ashton Hewitt, Lewis Hudd and many others.
The average age is getting lower in the Premiership (it was under 24 last season), especially in this neck of the woods with the Dragons academy churning out more good youngsters.
That has to be applauded but there is still a vital role to be played by the older clubmen, the likes of Dai Pattison (301 Newport appearances), Craig Gould (155 at Cross Keys) and Deri Mattravers (122 at Bedwas).
They are the ones that make it clear what is expected at Rodney Parade, Pandy Park and Bridge Field, creating a proper environment for the next generation to prosper.
Youngsters need to be on the receiving end of the odd rocket and it tends to stick when coming from a teammate rather than a coach.
The Premiership is a learning ground but it's also about winning. That's vital in order to be able to judge who is worthy of a regional shot.
The Dragons trio seem to be striking a nice balance at the moment while the Ospreys quartet at the bottom of the table are slightly less content.
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