BACK row forward Hywel Stoddart has earned a full-time contract with Newport Gwent Dragons.
The 26-year-old has penned a one-year deal with the region after impressing in pre-season training.
Stoddart, younger brother of Scarlets and Wales full-back Morgan, has been released from his semi-professional contract with Newport so that he can become a fully-fledged Dragon.
Last season was his first with the Black and Ambers and his efforts earned a regional debut in the RaboDirect Pro12 win in Edinburgh the week after he was an unused replacement in the home victory against the Blues.
Newport chiefly deployed Stoddart as a number eight but it is likely that he will be a blindside with the Dragons, playing a Dan Lydiate-like destroyer role.
“Hywel is a robust ball-carrying forward who has real physicality and makes a big impact in the collisions,” said director of rugby Robert Beale.
“He caught the eye last year but the coaches felt that to take that next step he needed to be in full-time conditioning and I am grateful to Newport for letting him do that. You see talented players week in, week out in the Premiership but the regional environment is totally different and Hywel has already shown that he can thrive in it.
“He has certainly impressed in pre-season and has earned that contract through hard work.”
Beale revealed that it was Stod-dart’s performances in training that dissuaded the Dragons coaches from recruiting outside.
“We’ve made a conscious decision to run with three frontline second rows and are looking for (back row forwards) Andrew Coombs and Jevon Groves to provide cover there,” said Beale.
“We talked about the possibility of recruiting a lock but felt that beefing up our back row was a priority with Dan and Toby (Faletau) sure to be leaving us for international duty.
“If it wasn’t Hywel then it would have been someone else coming in but his efforts in pre-season meant that we didn’t even consider looking elsewhere.
“He is work in progress, and I am sure he would be the first to admit that. But everything is on a level playing field here and he will be vying for selection in that first game along with everyone else. It’s up to him now to earn a contract extension by continuing to impress in training and when given a chance on the pitch, but he certainly has the hunger to succeed.”
Stoddart will be vying for back row berths with Lydiate, Faletau, Coombs, Groves, Lewis Evans, Darren Waters, Tom Brown and Wales Under-20s starlet Ieuan Jones.