WHEN the Dragons named their team to face Cardiff Blues on Christmas Eve there was a surprise in the 3 jersey.

It wasn't Wales tighthead Leon Brown that had the starting spot for the biggest game of the season but Lloyd Fairbrother.

There were factors that led to the decision – Brown had been away with Wales during the autumn and hadn't started a game since October – but it was a big call by director of rugby Dean Ryan.

It was also one that Fairbrother intends to repeat when his rival returns to the Six Nations – the Cornishman isn't content with being an understudy.

"That bugs me a little bit," said the 29-year-old. "I've got my own ambitions and want to put performances together to make Leon fight for his position when he gets back.

"Dean has made that very clear, it's about getting better, it's about pushing it on as a club and stepping it up while the internationals are away so they have got something to come back to."

"Me and Leon have been tooth and nail for selection and when he is here he brings some really good standards," he continued.

"Leon is a good ball player and his scrummaging has really come on, so it's good for me to try and match him."

South Wales Argus:

Fairbrother was signed by Lyn Jones from Exeter in 2014 and has racked up 134 appearances over seven seasons.

His deal expires this summer but the prop, whose mother is from Blaenavon, intends to still be a Dragon when he turned 30 in November after making Wales home.

"I don't really want to be chasing contracts, I want to stay here and keep pushing on for the Dragons so hopefully something comes up with that," he said.

With Fairbrother in what is widely acknowledged to be the prime propping years, a fresh deal would seem likely.

He became something of a cult hero at Rodney Parade thanks to his mullet and larger-than-life personality.

Fairbrother remains a bubbly character but the Twitter handle is now understated rather than @cornishbarrel and he has a more mature approach on the field.

South Wales Argus: STALWART: Lloyd Fairbrother moved to the Dragons in 2014STALWART: Lloyd Fairbrother moved to the Dragons in 2014

"I feel like I am able to put a good game together now consistently," he said. "I used to sort of chase big hits, chase scrums on my own a little bit and that sort of used to go against me.

"I think now I am able to put a good game together, locking the scrum down, making my hits, having a good work rate and the other stuff.

"It all seems to come together better as you get older. When you're young, you're a hot head and you go after scrums on your own and it just goes against you a bit more often than not."

Fairbrother has played for five bosses at the Dragons and has always had competition for the matchday squad, outlasting the likes of Shaun Knight, Craig Mitchell, Dan Suter and Nicky Thomas.

He's currently ahead of former Wales prop Aaron Jarvis in the pecking order and is now a regional stalwart, as shown by tomorrow's clash with Edinburgh being his 100th PRO14 outing.

South Wales Argus:

Fairbrother is a solid pro and, although he may beg to differ, is unlikely to force his way to the Test stage given that Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Samson Lee and WillGriff John are rivals.

However, he was given a glimpse of the standards when asked by Wayne Pivac to help with the preparations for the Six Nations finale against Scotland last March.

He said: "We actually had a Dragons social up in Chepstow when I got the call and I had to neck a pint and get straight back home!

"I was with the squad in the morning and initially it was just to do some scrummaging and be an extra number.

"As the day progressed then it turned out that Leon was really struggling with an injury and Dillon Lewis was as well, then all of a sudden it became quite real that I had to cancel all my plans and something could happen.

"I did the team run at Principality Stadium and it was awesome. It really was good, I did weight training, did the meetings with the team and sitting there at 8am having breakfast with all the big names in my Dragons gear, so it was a bit funny.

"We had a live session down at Cardiff Arms Park and it was a real test, scrummaging against the starting front three. I really enjoyed it and it was nice to be invited."

Fairbrother got a taste of Test standards and fully intends to keep making an international tighthead sweat on his start.