SO, it turns out that the Dragons have been trailblazers all these years with their thin squad and over-reliance on academy boys to cover senior spots.

Perhaps Dean Ryan's phone has been red hot this week, with old sparring partners from the English Premiership ringing to pick his brains.

The salary cap over the border is set to be cut by £1million from next season, although the new maximum of £6million is something that the Dragons would love to hit. Reduce the new figure by a quarter and you get their annual spend.

The move by English clubs seems partly opportunism in the coronavirus pandemic but part realisation that professional rugby just isn't as popular as some appear to think, despite their talk of growing the game and reaching new parts.

Top earners' salaries have soared in recent seasons and rugby cannot afford it. Wage cuts happened because of Covid-19 and they could be here to stay.

South Wales Argus:

Everybody is going to feel the pinch because of coronavirus but the Premiership teams have collectively moved first, even though there are some that have benefactors with deep pockets.

The beauty for the English is that at least, provided there is no more salary cap skulduggery, they will all be on a level playing field.

The problem comes when they come up against the Irish provinces and French clubs in Europe, but perhaps they don't care about that.

English clubs are soon going to realise the problems of operating under tighter budgets and those of us that have watched the Dragons can tell them that it's not easy.

Unlike the Rodney Parade region, the Premiership teams will still have some megastars on big bucks.

The new Welsh Rugby Union funding system means it's attractive for the Dragons to have Wales internationals – Ross Moriarty, Elliot Dee, Aaron Wainwright, Leon Brown, Jonah Holmes – because the governing body are picking up 80 per cent of the regional tab for a list of 38 Test players.

In England, salary cap credits mean that it will still be beneficial to have those that feature for Eddie Jones.

Some stars will remain and clubs will lean heavily on their academies to provide squad death, putting the squeeze on their mid-range earners.

South Wales Argus:

Players like Huw Taylor and Tom Griffiths, who headed to the Dragons because their routes to the matchday squad at Worcester and Saracens were blocked, may now get their chance because more senior players reach a level where they need to be pushed to the exit.

The players who earn a good wage but aren't stellar names, 'steady Eddies' who do the donkey work throughout the season, are the ones that sadly may struggle for employment in this new world.

That presents a challenge for those trying to balance the books – academy talent gets promoted quickly, if the individual copes then they deserve more money but that means finding it within the budget.

Aaron Wainwright signed plenty of contracts in his rapid rise from Dragons prospect to Wales star and it's unfair to keep a youngster on a junior deal when they hit double figures for senior appearances.

But not everyone can cope with the step up and it's hard asking academy boys to do men's work.

The Dragons have always had to operate with a thin squad and at the start of every season you can pick out certain positions that are vulnerable should injury strike.

In 2019/20 Ryan was lucky that Sam Davies stayed fit after the pre-season loss of Josh Lewis but it was carnage in the back three.

The director of rugby was lucky that Wales Sevens international Owen Jenkins grasped an unexpected chance and that Rio Dyer shone when flung in against the Ospreys.

Fly-half Jacob Botica, who has since moved to France's third tier, covered full-back while scrum-half Luke Baldwin finished on the wing against Enisei-STM in January.

There have been times over recent seasons when it's simply been impossible to do any proper preparation for weekend fixtures because of a lack of numbers on the training pitch in Ystrad Mynach.

The Dragons have always had to take a punt on players. I remember going to Northampton for an Anglo-Welsh Cup fixture when tighthead Dan Way, a personal trainer fresh from Newport RFC in the semi-pro Welsh Premiership, went up against Soane Tonga'uiha, one of the stars of the English Premiership.

It's to Way's credit that he came back from a tough first start to make 105 appearances before injury forced his premature retirement in 2015.

A frequent lament of Ryan's predecessors was the absence, because of a tight budget, of players who bridge the gap between up-and-comers and the veterans.

That looks set to become a reality in England and club chiefs who say they must cut their cloth accordingly also need to then be patient and realise the strain that will put on coaches who they are quick to axe.

South Wales Argus:

THE beauty of Wales’ 60-cap rule is its clarity – hit the figure or you can’t play.

Whether a Lion like Rhys Webb or a fringe player like Aled Davies, the rules are the same. Gone are the loopholes that made Gatland’s Law a farce.

I’ve written in the past about how the Dragons have prospered from the Welsh Rugby Union’s selection policy.

It helped with the return of Rhodri Williams, Jordan Williams and Aaron Jarvis, plus it made Sam Davies stick within the boundaries after leaving the Ospreys to sign up at Rodney Parade.

None of those players have added to their tally of caps since signing but the prospect of playing their way back into the Test team is an enticing one.

The Williamses spoke in glowing terms about their time with Bristol while Jarvis enjoyed his spell at Clermont Auvergne, when he helped them become French champions.

The same applies for Richard Hibbard at Gloucester and last week he said players shouldn't be punished for chasing rugby experiences outside of Wales.

"They should look at things on an individual basis and consider exceptions to the rules," said the hooker, using Webb as an example.

Nope. There can be no flexibility, even when one man is faced by a situation that is harsher than Webb's.

Tomas Francis could have been preparing for a three-Test summer tour, then there would have been four autumn fixtures, the five Six Nations encounters and another summer tour.

It would have been tough going but the tighthead, who has been sidelined through injury since the World Cup, could have pushed past that 60 figure.

Instead one fears that the 28-year-old, who could regret the brief Lions call-up that denied him another cap against Samoa, will fall short of the 12 international outings he needs before the start of a new Exeter contract in 2021.

It will be harsh to say the prop can't play for Wayne Pivac if he remains an option for Rob Baxter at Exeter.

Harsh but necessary for the benefit of the professional game in Wales.