WHEN talented young prop Leon Brown was given a baptism of fire at Welford Road in 2016, the 2023 World Cup cycle seemed the natural target.

That the 22-year-old will head to the Vale Resort this morning to start a bid for Japan 2019 shows how rapid his rise has been, even if it ends with the Dragons prospering from his summer toil when four tightheads becomes three.

The remarkable strides made by Brown at the start of 2017/18 have given the impression that his burgeoning career has stalled because of injury misfortune, yet the bright talent is still way ahead of schedule.

It was Kingsley Jones that gave the front rower from Maesglas his senior debut, and it was one that he will never forget.

He trotted onto the Leicester field in an Anglo-Welsh Cup to replace struggling former Wales prop Craig Mitchell, locking horns with Argentina great Marcos Ayerza at the end of the first half and England prop Ellis Genge in the second.

It turned out to be a steep learning curve that ended with a late yellow card despite a solid showing by the Wales Under-20s international,

who had just been invited to train with the seniors by Warren Gatland along with teammate Harri Keddie


South Wales Argus:

Brown played in four Anglo-Welsh Cup games that season alongside his learning with Cross Keys in the Premiership but it was Bernard Jackman that gave him his PRO14 debut in September, 2017 and just six fixtures later he became a Test player in the autumn.

A Wales bow against Australia was followed by a first start against Georgia and an outing against New Zealand, only to suffer a concussion against the All Blacks that would ruin his breakthrough campaign. He was out until February and then ruptured big toe ligaments on his fourth game back.

That frustration continued into last season with Brown unable to string together as many games as he would have liked because of a winter injury to his right thumb.

He played just 13 times for the Dragons – only totting up 545 minutes compared to rival Lloyd Fairbrother's 1,065 – to go along with his very brief November cameo against Scotland and 52 minutes as a starter against Tonga.

South Wales Argus:

Had Brown enjoyed a super season then not only would his club have fared better but he could very well have been a probable rather than a possible for Japan.

Instead the Newportonian is in the position of having work to do to make Gatland's final 31 with Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis and Samson Lee ahead of him in the pecking order.

But all is not lost and Brown has hope courtesy of the potential to give the head coach and forwards boss Robin McBryde something different.


Brown can be Dragons' Sinckler - coach Jones

In the autumn Gatland asked his players what their individual points of difference were, and with Brown it is big carrying and dynamism around the park compared to his rivals.

He has work to do on his scrummaging – as you would expect of a 22-year-old – but he provides big impacts when running hard and rattling ribcages.

South Wales Argus:

Brown is as mean on the pitch as he is pleasant off it, with his exploits for Positive Futures, a sports-based social inclusion programme, earning him the community honour at the Dragons' end of season awards.

The prop is a role model and is already a mightily impressive individual, but this summer can help him take the next step.

Brown is going to be challenged physically and mentally over the coming months as Gatland & Co ramp things up.

The promising prop will profit from the toil and exposure to the intense environment, even if it's Francis, Lewis and Lee that are the lucky ones.


Brown - I have to grasp World Cup chances

As long as Brown comes through unscathed, the Dragons can reap the benefits whether their tighthead is back in September after being edged out for selection or back in December after featuring in Japan.

The prop will grow in influence if he can rack up the game time that he needs to further develop in the dark arts, bolting that work in the tight to his already impressive rampaging.

Wales Under-20s used a Lewis-Brown combination with the former frequently starting and the latter adding oomph from the bench.

Last season the Cardiff Blues man, in addition to winning seven caps, passed his half-century for regional appearances when playing 17 times (757 minutes).

That exposure helped to develop Lewis and he has got the edge on Brown at the moment, but the pair should enjoy their tussle for Test starts over the next decade and beyond.

And Japan 2019, with a summer of tough preparation, could prove to be the making of the Dragon, even if he has to watch the action from his sofa and bide his time until France 2023.