EIGHT years ago there was astonishment at the ease with which a novice Dragons back row forward performed on the biggest stage with no signs of nerves. History is repeating.

Taulupe Faletau headed to the 2011 World Cup with just three caps to his name, the first earned against the Barbarians just three months earlier.

The Dragons number eight had played just 26 games of regional rugby but anybody who had seen a glimpse of him in action, be it at Cross Keys in the Premiership or at Rodney Parade, knew immediately that this was an incredible talent.

He showed that from the off in New Zealand – a try against South Africa was followed by extraordinary performances on the way to the semi-finals.

South Wales Argus:

Faletau was just 21 but was already a global star with his dynamism, power, work rate, tackling prowess and reading of the game.

That Aaron Wainwright is prompting similar levels of amazement shows that the Dragons have another sensation on their hands.

There was excitement about the back rower when he was developed by the academy and then brought into the seniors by Bernard Jackman ahead of 2017/18.

He didn't take long to settle in professional rugby despite being in a struggling side; Wainwright followed in the footsteps of fellow flankers Ollie Griffiths and Nic Cudd by dominating the Argus star man award in losing causes.

His work rate, pace and power caught the eye of the Wales management.

That meant that compared to Faletau in 2011 he was a Test veteran when heading to the World Cup – he boarded the plane to Japan as a Grand Slam winner and with a tally of 12 caps.

Warren Gatland saw something special in Wainwright, just as he had in Faletau, and hasn't hesitated in giving him big responsibility.

Both players are incredible and explosive athletes but the conditioning staff can't measure what is most impressive – the ability to cope with the pressure and deliver on the big stage is what sets the above the rest.

South Wales Argus:

Encouragingly Wainwright shares many of Faletau's attributes; he is humble, diligent and keen to learn.

One imagines he won't return from Japan with a big head, even if Gatland's men earn another Senedd salute. One imagines that he cringed when coach Robin McBryde likened him to Sam Warburton and would do at this comparison to Faletau.

Of course, Wainwright is a long way off being properly bracketed with such Lions but the way he has thrived in the Test camp and taken his game to another level is encouraging.

It is also down to a bit of good fortune: it was Josh Navidi's shoulder injury that led to Wainwright's late call-up to the 2018 summer tour and then it was Dan Lydiate's late withdrawal and Ross Moriarty's early blow to the head that led to his introduction against South Africa last autumn.

The way that he coped with the Springboks – plus Ellis Jenkins' injury misfortune – ensured he was a Grand Slam ever-present.

Of course, soon Wainwright will experience the fact that the trajectory isn't exclusively upwards in professional rugby, but being level-headed will help when that time comes.

The exciting thing is that there is so much more to come from the 22-year-old from Bassaleg, who has been talking about adding more breakdown threat to his game since those first days as a Dragon.

Wainwright has already racked up 42 regional appearances but sadly we won't see as much of him in a Dragons jersey, because he is destined to become a terrific player for Wales for years to come.

But for a homegrown player to be producing staggering performances like Sunday's against Australia so soon after world-class Faletau is a source of great pride for all at Rodney Parade.


South Wales Argus:

ON the walls of the press conference room at Thomond Park are newspaper cuttings from Munster’s memorable European victories.

Dean Ryan features high in the list of the Irish province’s famous successes thanks to the ‘Miracle Match’ against Gloucester; Munster had to win by four tries and by at least 27 points and did just that thanks to Ronan O’Gara’s conversion of a last-minute try.

Miracles do happen in Limerick, but not last weekend.

The Dragons’ PRO14 opener went as expected, the travel sickness continues and a 45th successive game on the road without victory was chalked up.

The first fixture of Ryan’s tenure was a heavy 39-9 defeat but the director of rugby was not deflated.

It was not a performance to merit the kicking of water bottles in the changing room debrief. The Dragons certainly weren’t at their best but there were flashes of encouragement, particularly in the opening quarter when they got on the front foot.

Munster was a free hit for the new boss but Saturday is different.

Ryan is keen to stress that he can’t be totally results-driven - he will treat the imposters of triumph and disaster just the same - but the PRO14 doesn’t present big opportunities every weekend.

The Dragons NEED to end the away hoodoo and this season travel to Parma, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast, Llanelli, Principality Stadium, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

A trip to Zebre, who were the worst side in the league in 2018/19, is certainly not easy but it’s as winnable as they come in the PRO14.

It’s just 80 minutes of 1,680 in a season and there are five points of 105 up for grabs, but Saturday provides the chance to make an important early step in the Ryan era.

A first away win since March, 2015 would be a huge boost ahead of home games with Connacht and Glasgow.