NEWPORT Gwent Dragons have enjoyed their best season for six years, and for one of their players it has ended on a top note.

Centre Ashley Smith has been voted the Dragons’ player of the year by fans in a poll conducted by the South Wales Argus.

The award softens the blow Smith received in the penultimate game of the campaign against Cardiff Blues when he broke a bone in his foot and tore a ligament which will keep him out of the first few games next season.

“I’m surprised, but very proud and chuffed the Argus readers have voted for me as player of the year, especially being a local boy and coming up through the academy,” said Smith, currently hobbling about on crutches.

“I’m a bit lost for words really, but to be from the area and to have the fans vote for me is great, especially when I’d imagine it was pretty close.”

The voting was close, for he edged home from prop Hugh Gustafson, with outside half Jason Tovey in third place.

Coach Paul Turner paid tribute to Smith, saying: “Ashley is a model pro and a really good bloke, we miss him when he’s not around. He’s capable of playing for his country.”

Smith, who is 23, has been part of the senior Dragons squad for five years and has made 71 appearances for them, leading the side several times this season. He has also captained Wales Under 20s.

He admits this season has been frustrating with injuries but predicts the Dragons will build on what they have achieved.

“It’s been a good season but frustrating for me because I played with a toe injury for the first couple of months, then came back and enjoyed quite a good run.

“We had great wins against Munster and the Ospreys and it was good to be part of that at Rodney Parade, now this injury means I missed the last game and maybe the start of next season.

“It’s been a season when the region has come on in leaps and bounds. People are starting to buy into it and though it’s easier when the team is doing well and performing, hopefully we can build on it next season with the new stand being done as well.

“There’s been a lot of hard work from the coaching staff with Darren (Edwards) and Charv (Colin Charvis) bringing new ideas and you can see the team is playing a more attacking game.

“There’s great team spirit here, it helps if you like coming to training and like the people you are training with.”

l One lucky voter won a Dragons jersey signed by the squad.

Jackie Davies, of Carmarthen, whose daughter Gemma is the girlfriend of Dragons prop Hugh Gustafson, said: “We go to a lot of the games, we make the effort to travel and really enjoy it.

“Hugh is doing really well and we are proud of him. It is wonderful to have a signed jersey and it will take pride of place.”