HE may be studying international relations but lock Ben Carter will aim to put some Italian noses out of joint on Saturday night after a rapid rise with the Dragons.

The 20-year-old from Caldicot started the season hoping to get some experiences of professional rugby but he heads to Zebre for a Guinness PRO14 fixture (kick-off 5.15pm) as a key member of Dean Ryan's squad.

Carter has been one to watch for a number of seasons after captaining the Dragons Under-18s to glory in the WRU Regional Age-Grade Championship then becoming a firm fixture in the Wales Under-20s boilerhouse.

The plan was always to give the 6ft 5ins bright prospect, who was a teenager until January, a bit of action alongside senior locks Matthew Screech, Joe Davies and Joe Maksymiw.

A bit has turned into a lot.

Carter made his debut off the bench against Munster, enjoyed a first start in Glasgow, played Wasps and Bordeaux-Begles in the Champions Cup and featured in all three festive derbies.

Not even his biggest fans expected Carter to take a huge step up in physicality, intensity and detail in his stride.

Dragons lock Ben Carter tries to disrupt the Connacht lineout

Dragons lock Ben Carter tries to disrupt the Connacht lineout

"He has been a revelation," admitted director of rugby Dean Ryan. "We always knew that he had potential but I didn't think at this stage he'd necessarily be able to operate week to week as error-free as he has been."

That comes from Carter's thirst for knowledge with former Wales and Lions hooker Richard Hibbard describing the lock as a "rugby nause".

The prospect, who has signed a lengthy Dragons deal, is sure to encounter some problems and all players have stinking performances, yet it's all part of the learning process for a bright talent

"Mixing in with the big boys is great, I'm learning a lot, so I'm really enjoying it," said Carter, who is still eligible for Wales Under-20s.

"I probably didn't expect to achieve as much as I have done. Coming in and learning for me was crucial.

"Last year I did a couple of unit sessions with the seniors and learnt a lot so I felt that would be an opportunity for me.

"I have been really pleased that I have been trusted in the role to play and to start. That is a bonus for me, I probably didn't expect that this year."

Carter is a student at Cardiff University and also enjoys getting his head in the books for the Dragons, something that comes with the territory for a lock.

"There is a lot of time spent off the field on analysis, but I quite enjoy that side of things," he said.

"I quite like having a look on the computers and watching other teams before we play them.

"All of the lineout lads are like that and that is great for me, learning how to pick things up and where we can try and exploit areas."

But the classroom can't prepare a forward for life against gnarly, experienced tight-five opponents.

In just Carter's second start he joined forces with Maksymiw against Wasps international duo of Dragons-bound Wales giant Will Rowlands and England powerhouse Joe Launchbury.

Ben Carter training with the Dragons

Ben Carter training with the Dragons

"Physically it is also a big step up," admitted the young Dragon. "In things like maul defence you can't get away with any softness like you could at age-grade level.

"I have to be a bit more diligent with my recovery. Every impact is an extra 10 kilos and everyone is stronger and hits harder.

"You do feel worse after the games, but it is nice to test yourself against that and I enjoy that side of the game."

Carter is enjoying himself in senior rugby despite the Dragons being on a losing streak.

He will make his 10th appearance against Zebre yet the win at Glasgow, courtesy of a botched conversion, is his solitary success.

Getting back to winning ways will need Carter and his fellow forwards to stand tall against a home pack that frustrated the Ospreys when beaten 10-0 at the Liberty Stadium last weekend.

"Zebre are going to be physical and we have to respect that," he said. "We are seeing this as a real opportunity to turn things around.

"We've lost a few in a row now and we have seen a shift in performance but not results yet. We look to this weekend to turn that around."