TAVIS Knoyle wants to repay the faith shown in him by Dragons boss Bernard Jackman after a nightmare season ruined by injury.

There was an optimistic mood at Rodney Parade last September when the region, under the new ownership of the Welsh Rugby Union and with a new head coach calling the shots, kicked off their season against Leinster.

Former Wales scrum-half Knoyle was among the replacements and determined to make an impact; he came on with half an hour left but lasted just 13 minutes after tearing knee ligaments.

It got worse. While rehabbing with weights in the gym at the Dragons’ Ystrad Mynach training base his troublesome left wrist felt wrong.

A previous bone graft had failed and Knoyle’s season was over, with his contract due to expire in the summer.

After having eight operations over eight years, the scrum-half feared that his time at the Dragons was up after 18 appearances.

Instead, with his wrist now fused, he is preparing for another chance at Rodney Parade.

“Bernard was great as soon as I did my ACL,” said 28-year-old Knoyle, who has a fresh one-year deal. “He spoke to me and said that he would give me an opportunity, that he would like to see me play.

“For some reason I’d always felt that you can’t open up to your coach, that he’s your boss, but being open and honest was great.

"I’ve been given another chance by the Dragons and I want to return the favour. I can’t wait for pre-season and it’s up to me now to stay fit, push the other scrum-halves, play well and prove myself.”

The Dragons have signed a pair of new 9s, Wales international Rhodri Williams as first choice and Rhodri Davies, while teenager Dan Babos impressed last season.

“I love being an underdog,” said Knoyle. “I look forward to a battle, it pushes me and I can’t wait for the season.”

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But the challenges of the past year mean that the scrum-half – who has a clean sweep of the regions after starting at the Ospreys then playing for the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues – will return a changed man.

He has altered his diet and investigated new methods to stay fit, but the biggest change will be his mindset. No longer will Knoyle reach for the strapping and keep quiet when troubled by injury.

“I did my wrist in a pre-season friendly with the Blues before I went to the Dragons, it never felt right,” he admits.

“I just played on and a remember once strapping it up with duct tape halfway through a game against the Ospreys.

“That’s been one of my biggest problems through the years, I’ve been afraid of not playing one week and that then turning into two, three weeks or more.

“You are afraid of a youngster coming through or another player taking their chance. Over the last couple of years I have made things 10 times worse by trying not to give another player an opportunity.

“Rather than saying ‘I am struggling here’, telling somebody that I wasn’t right, I have kept quiet. I was a busy fool by trying to play through it and have paid for that with eight operations over eight years.

“I would have a few games in a row and then be back to the operating room. I look back and wonder why I didn’t say something or deal with it a lot earlier.

“A lot of boys get rotated and managed, that’s the way that the game has gone, and I need to be open and keep talking to the physios.

“I haven’t communicated very well in terms of how my body is feeling; if something has niggled me then I’ve just stayed quiet because of the fear of someone coming in and me then being left behind.

“But now it’s about boxing clever and being honest, saying what my situation is.”

Knoyle has been rehabbing hard under the watchful eye of Ben Sterling, head of physiotherapy and medical services, ahead of the Dragons’ pre-season. He has been running his hand through sand, swimming, boxing and doing grip work.

The plate in his left wrist means the scrum-half has had to work on his action – “I was never good at passing anyway!” – but his on-field performances should be helped by a busy few months off the field.

Drained and frustrated by injury, Knoyle was given permission to devote most of his attention to setting up a gym.

After months of toil on the former Plumb Center site in Neath, the 11-times capped international is proud that Unit 9 is up and running.

On the morning of this interview Paul James, Sam Parry and Rory Thornton are on their way through the door to keep ticking over before returning to the Ospreys.

Wales international Alecs Donovan holds yoga classes, local rugby clubs use the facilities along with people of all shapes and sizes.

“It took me four months to get it up and running,” said Knoyle, who worked at a coalmine before becoming a professional rugby player. “I was working down here for 12 to 14 hours a day.

“It was in ruins with holes in the roof, no electrics or water and an overgrown car park. We had people here looking for scrap, so I slept in a caravan outside the building for three weeks!

“I was working 6am to 7pm, going home to have a shower, change, have some food and see the family (wife Jolene, son Toryn and daughter Aela-Rae), then coming back because we didn’t have any cameras or security at that point.

“I was low for a while [because of injury] so it was nice to come out of that environment, take a step back before going back in.

“I am over the moon with it and it’s lovely to meet different people all the time. You are constantly having a good laugh here.”

But it’s combining gym responsibilities with on-field activity that excites the scrum-half.

“I am only 28 but it feels like my career has flashed before my eyes,” said Knoyle. “I wouldn’t have liked to retire like that, I am so excited and appreciate it even more now.

“I feel four, five, six years in me but now I just want to play.”