CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons in dire need of some World Cup 'bolters'
Updated 11:41am Thursday 5th June 2014 in Sport
A PAIR of late bursts for selection meant that there was a respectable Newport Gwent Dragons contingent at the 2011 World Cup. A repeat will be needed next summer.
Warren Gatland plumped for a quintet of Dragons for the tournament in New Zealand – hooker Lloyd Burns, lock Luke Charteris, blindside Dan Lydiate, number eight Taulupe Faletau and wing Aled Brew.
Burns and Faletau made their Test debuts against the Barbarians just 11 weeks before the 30-strong squad was named for the tournament and headed Down Under with three caps each to their name.
Hopefully Rodney Parade can provide a few bolters for England 2015 because at the moment we are staring at a meagre Dragons presence.
Wales fly to South Africa today for two Tests against the Springboks and midweek encounter with Eastern Province Kings. There will be 32 players on the plane and just one Dragon... thank goodness for Taulupe.
Faletau is the region's only player who is a nailed-on World Cup squad member.
Full-back/wing Hallam Amos, who would have toured were it not for an injury to his left shoulder, will hopefully make the cut as back-up to Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North and Liam Williams.
But he faces a tussle with fellow young tyro Jordan Williams, who will attempt to impress on the hard grounds of South Africa after getting the nod ahead of Dragons wing Tom Prydie.
Lock/back row Andrew Coombs was unfortunate to miss out on South Africa and is attempting to earn selection in an area of real strength and depth.
The same goes for flanker Lewis Evans, who earned a late call-up to last week's trial but whose sterling performances for the Dragons this season clearly didn't tick the boxes for Gatland & Co.
The management team considered bringing in Jack Dixon but opted to leave the powerful centre with the Under-20s at the Junior World Championship; the 19-year-old from Newbridge may have to wait until the 2019 World Cup cycle along with the likes of Tyler Morgan, Elliot Dee and Joe Davies.
Whatever happens over the next year, it's hard to see the Dragons' 2011 tally of five being matched.
There are some extenuating circumstances for this – Burns was forced to retire while big offers from France tempted Charteris and Lydiate away – but the current list of Wales players makes for tough reading.
Not only do the names of the Scarlets (12), Ospreys (8) and Blues (4) appear more frequently than the Dragons but so do those of Racing Metro (3) and Perpignan (2).
It does little to dispel the charge of the Dragons being freeloaders, taking their share of the meagre pot for player release without providing the players.
Thankfully a sizeable Gwent contingent at this year's Junior World Championship is preventing things from being too uncomfortable for chief executive Gareth Davies when he attempts to push the Dragons' cause in the spat between Regional Rugby Wales and the Welsh Rugby Union.
The challenge is now to have a good conversion rate of Under-20s to senior internationals, but that has been said countless times over the years at Rodney Parade.
The naming of World Cup squads next August is sure to focus minds because it will be embarrassing if Fiji, courtesy of Netani Talei, match Wales' tally of one Dragon.
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