“TIME flies when you’re having fun!” said the affable Brok Harris outside the away changing room at the Arms Park when reflecting on the fact that he will become Welsh-qualified next autumn.

It’s unlikely that the 31-year-old South African will ever pull on the red of Wales but that’s no reflection on the quality of the Newport Gwent Dragons prop.

If injury were to hit Samson Lee or Tomas Francis then the tighthead could certainly do a job on the Test stage and be a short-term fix while the likes of Dillon Lewis and Leon Brown learn their trade.

While the contract extension of his also-excellent compatriot Rynard Landman may have grabbed more headlines, the fresh two-year deal for Harris provides wonderful news for a side that continues to frustrate away from Rodney Parade.

I would rank the former Stormers and Western Province man as one of the finest signings made in the short history of the Dragons and he is the blueprint for what you want from an overseas recruit.

It’s easy to forget the state of the set piece when he arrived as a Currie Cup winner in 2014; we had become accustomed to the scrum being dismantled with penalties and yellow cards frequently following yellow cards.

Of course one man doesn’t solve that problem alone but Harris has played a big part after getting to grips with longer European scrums compared to the swift shoves of the southern hemisphere.

He is a solid practitioner at the set piece to go along with his appetite for work around the field. He made his debut at Harlequins shortly after landing in the UK in November, 2014 and has played in 63 of 72 fixtures in all competitions.

However, what has made Brok a brilliant signing is the work that he also does outside of the 80 minutes.

Harris is a wonderfully warm character and interviews with him always include him chuckling like a South African Frank Bruno. He is often smiling, always positive and you can tell that he loves his job.

That is a dream for the coaching staff because Harris’ habits rub off on the younger talent on the Dragons’ books – he not only teaches them how to play but how to train and act as a professional.

The same goes for another of the unsung heroes, Nick Crosswell. These are not just players from abroad who are cashing their cheques and plotting their return home, they are providing value for money.

That the Dragons have retained the services of Harris, Landman and Ed Jackson, with other contract extensions to be announced in the New Year, provides reason for optimism in 2017 and beyond.

The Rodney Parade region didn’t have a great time of things in 2016 but there have been some encouraging signs in the first half of the current campaign, albeit the year ended with yet more away day frustration in the capital.

It was inevitable that the Dragons would be involved in a ‘mini league’ in the bottom third of the Pro12 and if they can cure their travel sickness then it’s not impossible that they can tussle with champions Connacht as well as trying to stay above Edinburgh.

But the fact that Harris & Co have committed to staying in Newport gives hope; players want to be winning and be part of something.

Sure, money comes into it but they want to build something and feel that progress is being made with the likes of Hallam Amos, Tyler Morgan, Ashton Hewitt, Angus O’Brien, Ollie Griffiths, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown and Harri Keddie on the roster.

If some new overseas talent can be attracted to Rodney Parade then the jovial Harris’ smile could get even wider over the next two and a half seasons.

South Wales Argus:

A LINE from the marvellous Half Man Half Biscuit song ‘The Referee’s Alphabet’ came to mind during the Boxing Day derby.

“U is for the umpire which I sometimes wish I’d been instead. You never hear a cricket crowd chanting “who’s the b****** in the hat?”

A result of World Rugby’s new guidelines that aim to reduce reckless and accidental head contact is that the officials are going to be centre stage.

They are going to have to make more and more big calls that determine outcomes. They are the ones that will cop the flak for ‘the game going soft’.

In sport it’s often said that a referee is having a good game if you don’t notice them but that’s nigh-on impossible in modern rugby.

That being said, sometimes they don’t help themselves. We are now in the age of the celebrity ref as a result of them being mic’d up and being the focus of the cameras as they stand there looking at the big screen.

When every ref takes up the whistle they know that it’s about the 30 players but now they can’t just blend into the background. There is no longer such a thing as a quiet word in the ear when viewers back home can hear everything.

However, the reaction of players spoke volumes in Newport Gwent Dragons’ defeat to Cardiff Blues on Monday. It wasn’t just the decisions that was frustrating them, it was the way that they were being communicated by young referee Ben Whitehouse.

Everybody wants to be like Nigel Owens but he is among the world’s best (not the very best in my opinion, that would narrowly be either Wayne Barnes or Jerome Garces) for his game management, not his sharp wit.

The Welsh whistler may like a quip but knows there is a time and a place. Like ‘Spreaders’ before him, the rapport is natural and not forced.

Owens is popular with many players because of his empathy – something that will be tougher to use given that the rules are becoming more stringent and HAVE to be applied across the board – and that comes with experience.

However, he is unique and his method of refereeing and manner on the field shouldn’t necessarily be the blueprint. Attempting to mimic him can backfire, making the official come across as hoity-toity.

Sadly, the regularity of TMO referrals plus microphones on jerseys and cameras attached to the means the age of the understated referee may be gone.