CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Rough diamonds can be turned into real gems

First published in Sport

IT’S through necessity that Newport Gwent Dragons have adopted their policy of trying to polish rough diamonds when it comes to recruitment.

The region has always had to be a bit different to their rivals when they enter the transfer market.

They don’t go in search of the finished product, instead they look at those with room for improvement or players that aren’t fulfilling their potential.

The early signs are promising on that front when it comes to their big three summer arrivals.

Ian Nimmo, previously something of a journeyman, has settled rapidly in the second row, while full-back Dan Evans and wing Tom Prydie, a pair of Wales internationals whose form had dipped significantly, have become the go-to guys in attack.

While it would be foolish to go overboard after just two games in the RaboDirect Pro12, it looks like all three will be canny signings.

And then there is the Dragons’ liking for handing opportunities to semi-professional players that have caught the eye.

It’s a policy that is backed by a man who has been a binman, hod carrier, floor cleaner and one of the finest goalkeepers to ever don gloves.

When former plumber Hywel Stoddart made his first regional start against Leinster on Saturday it would have got the seal of approval of Neville Southall.

Before his time at Everton that saw him win a raft of medals, honours and most of his 92 Wales caps, Big Nev did his time in the Cheshire League with Winsford United.

That era of his life provides plenty of tales in his excellent new book ‘The Binman Chronicles’.

On a publicity tour last week he was happy to chat about the benefits of the Dragons handing chances to the likes of Stoddart, Lloyd Burns, Andrew Coombs and Mike Poole.

“Sometimes the roughening up and mental toughness that you get from outside academy systems is invaluable,” he said.

“It’s not all given to you, you have to fight for everything and you have to make your mark.

“It’s tough out there away from the academies, especially in rugby when you have someone trying to smash and hurt you.

“But that can serve a kid well and there’s a lot to be said for roughing ’em up a bit rather than letting them have all the kit, facilities and someone to wipe their backside.”

Signing such players certainly adds a humility to the Dragons but sometimes you need a stellar foreign signing to go alongside them.

Injuries have caused the region to look overseas for a player to slot into the back five of their pack.

Earlier this week Glasgow signed South African Josh Strauss, a combative back row player who caught the eye with his physicality with the Lions in the Super 15 as much as his impressive beard.

If the Dragons could lure a player of similar stature to Rodney Parade then it may just help them in their bid to polish those rough diamonds.

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