FORMER plumber Hywel Stoddart hopes there are plenty more Newport Gwent Dragons appearances in the pipeline after making his first regional start at the age of 26.

The blindside flanker earned his first professional contract this summer after catching the eye with Newport in the Premiership.

After spells with Llandovery and Tonmawr, patience has been a virtue for the younger brother of Wales and Scarlets full-back Morgan.

And after finally making his full Dragons debut in last weekend’s RaboDirect Pro12 loss to European champions Leinster, Stoddart will once again have to bide his time.

Wales star Dan Lydiate will return for Saturday’s derby against Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade after not travelling to Dublin because of a minor chest injury.

There is quite a tussle to be Lydiate’s deputy with Lewis Evans, Jevon Groves and Ieuan Jones all able to don the number 6 jersey and Stoddart is delighted to have put himself in the mix.

“It’s been a long journey for me towards making my first start but it was definitely worth the wait,” he said.

“Obviously Dan is an amazing player and we have loads of competition in the back row but I just want to build on what I did against Leinster next time I get my chance.

“I really enjoyed it and it was a great experience even though we were disappointed by the defeat.

“We showed great spirit to come back after they scored their fourth try (and led 38-13) and we played some really good rugby.

“But we are not happy with our performance because we should have got a pair of bonus points.”

Stoddart, from Trealaw in the Rhondda Valley, is now trying to show he is worthy of a contract extension after penning a one-year deal.

He may still have his plumber’s van but his aim is to still be throwing a kit bag in the back rather than a tool belt this time next year.

“I definitely feel like I am improving as a player and it helps massively to be able to train in a full-time environment,” he said.

“It’s not just being able to do the weights and conditioning but also being able to look at parts of your game with the coaches and improve technical parts of your game.

“I’m really chuffed to have earned a deal and to have become a regional player but I’ve got a taste for it now and want more.”