9:20am Saturday 9th June 2012
By Chris Kirwan
A GROUP of Premiership players have been handed the chance to impress Newport Gwent Dragons after being invited to join them at pre-season training.
The region's official return from the off-season is a week on Monday but a number of Dragons, mostly those who spent a large amount of last season on the treatment table, are already back doing weights and conditioning work.
And they have been joined by some individuals that have caught the eye in the top flight of Welsh club rugby.
Among them are Cross Keys hooker Gerwyn Price, back row forward Hywel Stoddart and his new Newport teammates Rhys Downes and Dan Robinson and Bedwas' Richard Powell, Ross Wardle and Craig Lodge, a fly-half, centre and lock respectively.
The group of semi-professionals has been working with assistant coach Rob Appleyard and conditioning coaches Alex Lawson and James Knight.
“They have come in in their own time and it’s a good opportunity to look at them in a professional environment, but also for them to have a look at us,” said director of rugby Robert Beale.
“Some have been invited for a five-week block and it should provide us with more of an insight into players who have impressed in the Premiership.
“The Premiership is an important pathway for us and it should help to paint a picture of players who have stood out. I sure this will be valuable for both our coaches and this group.”
The players will be keen to make an impression given that the Dragons will be operating with a slimmed-down squad in the coming season.
Last term saw Stoddart, brother of Wales full-back Morgan, make his regional debut in the win in Edinburgh while utility back Geraint O'Driscoll and prop Keiron Jenkins, then of Pontypool and Bedwas respectively, also tasted RaboDirect Pro12 action.
The Dragons are likely to continue with the policy of asking clubs if they could borrow players rather than offering full-time contracts, though it could be a different matter for Price.
The region is in the market for another hooker and he was closely watched during a stellar campaign at Pandy Park that saw him nominated for the Premiership player of the year award.
Meanwhile, the Dragons expect to be picking from a full squad come the start of the season.
Full-back Jamie Smith, whose first season at Rodney Parade was hindered by horrible luck with injuries, suffered a setback after picking up an infection following surgery on his left foot. The Ulsterman had to go back under the knife but it is hoped that it won't impact on his scheduled return to action and that he will back in the mix come September.
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