DRAGONS academy boss Will Thomas believes the region is starting to reap the rewards of changes to their development system.

The rapid rise of centres Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon made the headlines last month when they made their Dragons debuts in the LV Cup win at Wasps.

Amos, 17, became the youngest player to feature in regional rugby (and promptly scored a try) only to lose his record when 16-year-old Dixon came off the bench.

Their efforts meant that the debut of another young gun – 18-year-old carpentry apprentice Ieuan Jones, who has been catching the eye in the Pontypool back row – was almost missed.

Thomas, pictured right, believes others will follow their lead as the Dragons reap the rewards of some hard graft in their bid to catch up with their regional rivals.

“When I came in there were a lot of structural changes that needed to be made and the improvements don’t come overnight,” he said.

“We were based in Usk but moved to Rodney Parade and being around the senior coaches and (director of rugby) Robert Beale has been a massive step.

“We’ve also widened our player base – we were selecting our under-16s from two district teams while the Blues have around eight and the Ospreys four or five.

“Now we pick from five teams and run two under-16s teams. Hopefully that will allow any late developers to be captured and stop any players slipping through the net.

“We were behind the other regions but the structural changes have made a huge difference.”

Thomas is hopeful that the rise of Amos and Dixon spurs on their young teammates.

There was a buzz about the pair of centres after they spent some summer time with the firsts – defence coach Rob Appleyard talked about them in glowing terms as early as July – but few tipped them to make such an impact so soon.

Dixon is not allowed to play in the Premiership until mid-December because he is too young, yet he has the power in the gym to rival that of the region’s most destructive centre, Pat Leach.

Amos became the youngest Premiership player when he turned out for Newport at Pontypridd and then went on to score after starting at full-back at Adams Park a week later.

“It has served as a real inspiration for all of the academy boys and they can see that the pathways are there,” said Thomas.

“They know that they will get opportunities if they apply themselves properly.

“Hallam and Jack were exposed to the senior environment in the summer, along with the likes of Ieuan, Elliott Dee and Dafydd Morgan.

“That paid off when they were called in for the game with Wasps, they were not overawed by training alongside the first team players.

“People asked whether it was too early but this was not a decision that was made on a whim – we didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide to throw them in.

“We were pretty sure that they were on course to feature this season, perhaps not quite so early, but we are very careful about making the decision.”

Two who have made it at the Parade, Wales star Toby Faletau and Steffan Jones, were in fact partly developed over the border.

The pair were teammates at Filton College, while Hartpury has also attracted promising young Welsh players.

Thomas believes the Dragons’ partnership with Coleg Gwent will be key in the future development of talent.

He said: “We didn’t have anything that catered for 16 to 18-year-olds, the boys that weren’t quite making it into the senior academy.

“They were going over the border but we set up the partnership with Coleg Gwent at Cross Keys and, though I know I am biased, I think it is a better model.

“The results matter to us on a Wednesday but they are not the be all and end all – we are a bit more development focused.

“Hopefully the Tobys and Steffans will now come through Cross Keys but we still keep in touch with Filton (where current Academy full-back Joe Gadd went) and Hartpury, while our link with Monmouth School has really kicked on.”

With the under-18s enjoying a fine start to the season hopes are high for more Dragons on the international stage.

In the past a bumper crop has been followed by a barren year, something Thomas hopes will soon be a thing of the past.

“What we are looking for is more consistency rather than just getting players selected in cycles,” he admitted.

“We want more players in the Wales age-grade side and fingers crossed we will get that with the under-18s after Christmas.”