THERE'S no chance of Aneurin Owen going on a January crash diet as the Dragons centre piles on the pounds so that he can mix it with the big boys.

The 19-year-old from Newport will be in the Wales Under-20s midfield in the Six Nations opener against Italy in Colwyn Bay on Friday night.

Owen was an ever-present in the tournament last year and has one more campaign in age-grade rugby before a concerted push to make it with the Dragons.

The playmaker has trained with Dean Ryan's seniors this season but is yet to make his regional bow, with the conditioning staff instead working to prepare him for the step up.

As a former fly-half, Owen is on a regime that will help him stand firm against strong-running centres while losing none of his ball-playing ability.

The centre is combining a gruelling gym programme with an increase to five meals a day. The NHS recommended daily calorie intake is 2,500 for men but Owen is scoffing down 3,500 to 4,000.

It's chicken and rice rather than pizza, Pot Noodles and kebabs for this Cardiff Met student.

"The eating was the biggest thing because I was doing the gym work anyway. It went from three or four meals a day to five, plus shakes and little snacks every now and then," said the former Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw pupil, who is in the first year of a performance analysis degree.

"Everyone says that sounds great but it's not! I get up earlier and having a meal, and you plan it around the day with chicken and rice.

"A lot of the other boys have given me stick and saying that I have had a good Christmas, but it's what I needed."

South Wales Argus:

Owen, pictured above receiving his Wales Under-20s cap last year, was 90kg at the start of the season but now tips the scales at 97kg.

"Going into training with the seniors I probably struggled a bit at the start because of how big the other boys are," he admitted.

"Having half a year to put on a bit more size made a massive difference, it's done me well.

"I have been in the gym a lot and eating all the time. If I didn't do that then I would fall behind the others and would end up injured for half of my career because everyone else is so big.

"I am feeling in a lot better place and they have also done a lot of running with me and explosive work. I feel sharp and it's nice coming into my 20s and now get match fit."

Owen is rated highly by the Dragons thanks to his ability on the ball, something that won't be affected by the added bulk.

"The whole aim was to bring that fly-half play into inside centre but I also need that all-round game and sometimes it will not be on to be a ballplayer and I will need that physicality at 12," said Owen, who plays his Premiership rugby with Ebbw Vale.

"There is a lot of people coming down that channel and need that physicality to make it at regional level.

"At fly-half I probably didn't need to be as big as other people then I moved to inside centre and in professional rugby they are massive.

"As long as I can get to a physical place where I can handle myself at that level and not get injured, that's the main thing. I am not going to smash people over, I just want to be able to handle myself."

Owen has trained with the Dragons firsts in Ystrad Mynach and now hopes to reap the rewards when pulling on the red of Wales.

"Dean Ryan has been class and it's an enjoyable place to learn and get better," he said.

"It's been unreal working with Sam Davies, who really leads well and his performances speak for themselves. He has given clarity and everyone knows where they should be.

"It's been a good season, I have learnt a lot and now hopefully I can show that in these Six Nations games.

"Coming into this I feel like one of the old heads because a lot of boys have come up from the under-18s.

"That means I have a bit of responsibility and there is a core group of us trying to carry them through. That's been a new challenge and I have been really enjoying it."

Owen is joined in the Wales XV by Dragons teammates Ewan Rosser, Daf Buckland and Ben Carter at wing, scrum-half and lock respectively with hooker Will Griffiths charged with adding energy off the bench.