CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Regions right to protect their stars
10:00am Thursday 4th October 2012 in Sport
BEWARE George North: a warning as necessary as ‘may contain nuts’ on a packet of dry roasted.
Newport Gwent Dragons head into tomorrow’s game at Parc y Scarlets looking to keep the Wales behemoth in check fresh from attempting to keep try machine Tim Visser on a leash.
That proved easier said than done against Edinburgh – it was job done in terms of getting the win but the Dutch winger was a pain all evening long, setting up one try, scoring another and looking a constant danger.
It should be perfect preparation for an evening with North.
The giant winger will be looking to add to his five tries in four games this season, a strike rate just shaded by Visser’s seven in four.
Yes, they’ve both played four of their teams’ five encounters.
Just like the Dragons haven’t played Toby Faletau in every fixture, the biggest try-scoring threats haven’t been turned out by their sides every week.
When Faletau was put on the bench for the Pro12 encounter at Munster the decision was questioned on BBC’s Scrum V.
What sort of a signal was that to put out to the rest of the squad? Did the Dragons raise the white flag before they headed to Limerick? Surely the region should be using their star while they can before he is whisked away for international duty?
Leave aside both the fact that Faletau had not trained fully in the build up to the Munster game because of a dead leg and the necessity to give Tom Brown a deserved start.
The Dragons have a duty of care to their players and would cop a load of flak if they flogged their star number eight ahead of the autumn internationals and Six Nations.
Wales did so well last year because of the time that their squad had for preparation, providing more ammunition in the debate about central contracts or top-up fees.
While Luke Charteris is getting flogged in the brutal Top14, Alun Wyn Jones is, comparatively, being wrapped in cotton wool by the Ospreys in the Pro12.
All Perpignan care about, understandably, is getting as many minutes as possible out of their foreign import per Euro spent on him.
The Dragons have just two players that are known globally – Faletau and the injured Dan Lydiate – so would love to turn them out week in, week out.
But the only way that they can convince them to stay and ignore the big bucks they could earn elsewhere is by looking after them in a way that those with deep pockets wouldn’t.
Another week, another reminder of the tightrope being trod by the Dragons with their paper thin squad.
Every team expects to be hit by injury but the region’s worst fears have been realised with their ranks being ravaged in one position.
It’s going to be a big ask to get through most of the season without three flankers – Lydiate, Stoddart and Waters – given that bumps to their other back rowers are inevitable.
The region is already operating with just two locks and with a Bedwas scrum-half on the bench.
Last year the Dragons were helped by the fixture list when struck with a spate of injuries in the back five.
Prop-turned-hooker Hugh Gustafson partnered Robert Sidoli in the second row in the Amlin Challenge Cup against Cavalieri Prato.
Had that been against Perpignan rather than the Italian minnows then the results could have been catastrophic.
One month into the season and already one fears that head counts in midweek training will render selection meetings pointless; if you’re fit, you’re in.
There are, of course, areas of strength.
The battle for starts in midfield is fascinating while the return of Tonderai Chavhanga in the coming weeks will provide another rapid option out wide.
Not only that, in Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon the region has a pair of teen-agers who will soon be shining at regional level and higher.
But the back row row situation is desperate and it will only get worse when Toby Faletau heads off to wear red in the autumn.
In truth there is not a wealth of options from the Premiership, something that makes it all the more galling that Lewis Rawlins was allowed to slip through the net and head west to Llanelli last summer.
All of which means that the Dragons better have their fingers crossed that skipper Lewis Evans’ calf doesn’t start playing up again.
Given that money’s tight, the fear is that any more injuries in the back row will lead to forwards coach and former Wales flanker Rob Appleyard rummaging around his garage for his boots.
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