NEWPORT Gwent Dragons coach Darren Edwards is offering the Gwent Select players a huge incentive – impress me today and you have a chance of securing a professional contract.
The Dragons – who give debuts to new signings like Wales internationals Tom Prydie and Dan Evans – face many of the cream of Gwent’s Premiership crop who form the 25-man squad doing battle with them at Rodney Parade.
Talented players like Gerwyn Price will be keen to show what they can do this afternoon, the highly rated Cross Keys hooker failing to secure a contract after training with the Dragons this summer.
The semi-professional operators from Keys, Newport and Bedwas who make up the Gwent Select side will know a number of ex-Premiership players have made it with the Dragons.
Dragons outside-half Steffan Jones, wing Mike Poole and back rowers Jevon Groves and Andrew Coombs – who start today – were in a similar position to them not so long ago.
And Newport’s Hywel Stoddart – brother of Wales full back Morgan – is the latest to make that big step up to regional rugby after the back rower signed professional terms with the Dragons on a one-year deal.
In these very uncertain and difficult economic times with budgets tight for all four Welsh regions, it has become a necessity to look at young local talent.
And Edwards stressed how significant today’s match could be.
“It’s a very important day for us, playing against a very strong Gwent Select team and there’s a number of players we are interested in as a region to see if they have a future in professional rugby,” he said.
“We brought in 12 Premiership players over the summer to train on a permanent basis over a nine-week period so we’ve put in a lot of investment into them over that time.
“This weekend will be a great talent identification process for us and I’m hoping these guys really step up to the mark.”
Former Wales A scrum half Edwards added: “We are operating with a small squad this season. That’s fine, that’s a decision that has been made so that we can operate within the constraints of our budget.
“But it’s important we look outside of that at a number of players who can step in if need be and the best place for us to look and where we should be looking is our region.
“Every one of those players on that team-sheet (this weekend), they’ve all got the opportunity to play and particularly when we come around to the LV= Cup time of the year I’ll be going back to see who is in form.
“Over the last season, 15 of my first team squad have come through the Premiership and I think that’s something to be commended.
“These Premiership teams is where the hard work has been put in by the coaches and the players.
“Having 15 players from the Gwent region in a squad of 38 is something to be proud of.”
Edwards added: “If somebody stands out this weekend, we’ll certainly be watching them throughout the season.
“We are operating on a small squad, but injuries or form on their part, may dictate this – any standout player in our region, we should be the first people to approach the player.”
Dragons team: D Evans, T Prydie, A Hughes, P Leach, M Poole, S Jones, J Evans, A Coundley, H Gustafson, D Way, I Nimmo, A Coombs (capt), J Groves, D Waters, T Brown. Replacements: S Parry, N Williams, T Ryan, J Tyler, H Stoddart, I Jones, W Evans, L Robling, J Dixon, A Tuilagi.
Gwent Select team: G O’Driscoll, K Baller, A Awcock, R Wardle, E Frewen, R Powell, R Downes, R Cornock, G Price, K Gaye, D Hodge, C Lodge, P Sargent, R Nash (capt), J Thomas. Replacements: R Hutchinson, A Lott, M Jones, K Maiden, C Attwell, A Powell, A Quick, D Gunter, A Davies, M John.