THE Wayne Pivac era begins with an uncapped game that is somewhere between the Probables and Possibles trial and the midweeker against the Chiefs from the Warren Gatland regime.

Rather than being at Principality Stadium to report on Wales versus the Barbarians (kick-off 2.45pm after the women’s game) I will be at Rodney Parade for the Dragons against Zebre (kick-off 5.15pm).

It’s where Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty, Ollie Griffiths, Taine Basham, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Sam Davies and Ashton Hewitt really should be.

South Wales Argus:

When Pivac names his team this morning we will discover if any Dragons will be released for club duty, leaving Dean Ryan with the decision of a starting spot for them or a place on the bench.

The director of rugby was relaxed at yesterday’s Guinness PRO14 media day about being without eight key players this week, a figure to go along with the injured Cory Hill, Brandon Nansen, Ryan Bevington, Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Josh Lewis and Jordan Williams.

Throughout the early days of Ryan’s reign he has avoided grumbling about absentees, instead he has preferred to concentrate on the positives of opportunities for the next in the queue.

There is merit to such an approach, especially when there is evidence as clear as the performances of wing Owen Jenkins, who was initially just being lent by Wales Sevens for the Celtic Cup.

But being denied key individuals against Zebre adds to the jeopardy of a fixture in which the visitors, bolstered by their Italy internationals, are hunting revenge for the seven-try, 52-28 hammering in Parma just eight weeks ago.

The reasons for the money-spinner in Cardiff are well-documented but there is a need to find a way of Welsh rugby not being so reliant on Test fixtures.

Naturally the Baa Baas game will mean plenty to a number of individuals who have spent this week at Wales’ Vale Resort headquarters, even in the absence of a cap.

South Wales Argus:

Davies is poised for a first international outing since Samoa two years ago while Griffiths, whose solitary cap was a two-minute cameo against Tonga in 2017, finally gets the reward for stellar performances at Rodney Parade.

For Hewitt it’s a real pick-me-up after 16 months of injury torment following a blow to his shoulder ahead of Wales’ summer tour in 2018, when he would have won his first cap.

The winger has since seen his then rival Josh Adams race ahead to become a World Cup star and shoo-in at the end of Gatland’s reign.


Saturday’s will probably be a bit of a laugh – at some stage a forward will take a kick at goal, rugby’s equivalent of the tiresome rally between tennis player and ball boy – but will Pivac really learn much ahead of the February 1 Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff?

The regions need as much cash as possible, which plays into the hands of those that want to cram as many international fixtures as they can into the Principality Stadium schedule.

But fixtures like this put the strain on the pro teams, who I’d argue don’t get enough financial compensation from the governing body for use of their players in the first place.

Hopefully the Dragons will still have enough to beat Zebre, who haven’t won any game since beating Enisei-STM last December.

But this is a banana skin and risks putting a pin in what has been an encouraging start to the Ryan regime.

It’s been steady in the PRO14 with wins against Zebre and Glasgow, plus a gutsy display in defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

They backed that up with a perfect start to the European Challenge Cup to set up the December double-header with Worcester.

Ryan has vowed to not react wildly to results but the boss has to understand that a loss in Newport to Zebre would be a kick in the teeth for supporters.

The swing is big – win and it’s a strong start, lose and it’s a disappointing one.

It would also harm the Dragons hopes of making a big statement in a season that is shaping up to be a challenging one for Welsh rivals, with the Ospreys hit by the World Cup and injuries while Cardiff Blues look underpowered.

Ryan may be focused on the long term but this year he has three home derbies and an opportunity to show real progress, something that would help retain and attract talent.

Failure to beat Zebre – and double a team in the league for the first time since Leinster in 2014/15 – would be a blow on that front.


South Wales Argus:

AARON Wainwright is a freakish talent but it’s unlikely that the Wales back row forward would be a Grand Slam winner and World Cup star were it not for others’ injury misfortune.

The flanker had been pencilled in to continue his rugby education in the Premiership with Newport in 2017/18 but instead he became a Dragons regular.

Wainwright totted up 25 appearances after his debut against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park to earn a place on Wales’ summer tour courtesy of an injury to Josh Navidi.

Now the 22-year-old from Bassaleg is a firm fixture in the XV with both club and country ahead of his time.

That rapid progress is ridiculous and most young talents have to show patience.

Will Talbot-Davies has certainly had to do that since making his Dragons debut, along with Wales tighthead Leon Brown, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup clash against Leicester at Welford Road in November 2016.

The 22-year-old from Solihull made 11 appearances last season to take his tally up to 16 but now he has a golden opportunity to cement himself.

Jordan Williams’ injury misfortune leaves Talbot-Davies as the front-runner at 15 and the West Midlander with a Welsh dad must grasp this chance.

At 6ft 3ins he is a very different type of full-back but has already shown promising signs this season.

Experience of the World Rugby Sevens Series with Wales has helped his physical development and now, courtesy of Williams’ ruptured knee ligaments and Hallam Amos’ departure for Cardiff, he has a free run at the 15 jersey.