NEWPORT Gwent Dragons have more than their fair share of dramatic stories.

There’s Dan Lydiate going from serious neck injury to Grand Slam winner, Lloyd Burns turning from bricklayer to World Cup hooker, former cage fighter Mike Poole becoming a regional winger and now there’s the tale of Nathan Buck.

Back in September, the 22-year-old was bracing himself for a return to the field with Cross Keys following 25 months on the sidelines.

The tighthead prop had endured three major operations on his right knee after suffering a horror injury playing for the University of Queensland in Brisbane in 2009.

It’s not overly-dramatic to say that his career was in doubt before he had reached his 20s and there remained plenty of question marks over whether Buck, from Gilwern, would be able to recover to fulfil his promise.

But a spate of injuries to his fellow tightheads, with New Zea-landers Ben Castle and Nigel Hall forced to retire, meant that such fears would soon be put to bed.

Buck made his regional debut at Connacht on September 23 and is now cemented as the Dragons’ first choice tighthead for tomorrow’s return fixture with the Irish province.

The region was forced to chuck him in at the deep end and is now reaping the rewards.

“It’s going very well,” said Buck, who started out at Pontypool United.

“I’ve learnt so much from playing this season, much more than I could have by just training.

“At the start of the season I thought that I would just play as hard as I could for Cross Keys and then would try and take the opportunity if it came along.

“It was nice for it to come so early but I was really nervous going on against Connacht when Dan Way injured his shoulder because they have a physical pack and a strong scrum.

“But it went well and the week after I played 70 minutes against Ulster – I hadn’t done that for 25 months!

“It was great because it had been very hard to be out for so long, as tough mentally as it was physically.”

He still wears strapping on his knee but it’s more for the safety of mind rather than out of necessity.

The stats certainly make good reading with Buck having chalked up 23 appearances this season, the fourth highest in the squad, and the learning process continues.

“We have worked really hard on the set piece and do a lot of live scrummaging in training,” he said.

“It’s all about coming up against different props and reacting to what they do. We have only got a certain amount of looseheads for training so it’s in games that you really learn.

“I love to carry and try to do that as many times as I can in a game but I think I need to work on my defence. I put some big hits in but I need to be more consistent in the tackle area.

“However, scummaging is my bread and butter.”

Yet it was bread and butter pudding that used to be Buck’s downfall.

Life as a professional has changed all that and the 22-year-old has earned the praise of his coaches for his off-field efforts.

He has actually put on weight and is a whopping 21 stone, but he has also dramatically reduced his body fat.

That means he is in good shape to lead the in-form Dragons’ charge against Connacht at Rodney Parade.

“It’s going well with four wins from five and with tomorrow being at home we have a good opportunity to get another one,” he said.

“When the weather is nice we want to play open rugby but, as ever, we have to produce up front and make sure the contact area is solid for our backs to have plenty to play off.

“We want to finish with a lot of pride and want to take momentum into next season.”