THE only surprise from Belfast was that a doctor didn’t lambast Dragons boss Bernard Jackman for exposing youngsters to collisions in rugby.

Thank goodness for Saturday’s game against the Southern Kings and the South African expansion of the Guinness PRO14 for saving us from a seemingly repetitive rugby calendar.

It’s gone early this year with calls from familiar voices in the medical profession about banning tackling and scrummaging at school level, a suggestion swiftly followed with the same frustrated folk moaning about the desire to wrap youngsters in bubble wrap.

It’s a yarn as predictable as Jake White throwing his hat in the ring for a coaching job, and there’s more to come.

Soon we will be in the autumn where Wales will start slowly but ‘learn lessons’ about beating the southern hemisphere. The gap is narrowing, we will be told.

Then comes the festive period – ‘how can Welsh rugby attract these sorts of crowds year-long?’ – before the final rounds of Europe in January when there will be navel-gazing after regional ‘failure’ against sides with far, far bigger budgets then it’s the Six Nations and the Georgia/Italy dilemma.

The alarm clock ticks round to 6am and Sonny and Cher rings out... I don’t doubt that I’ve even made that ‘Groundhog Day’ quip before in this paper.

But it’s down to Jackman to change the record regarding the Dragons and already there is an alarming situation courtesy of a glut of back row injuries.

That area of the team has traditionally been one of strength at Rodney Parade with Jason Forster, Colin Charvis, Joe Bearman, Michael Owen, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Lewis Evans, Gavin Thomas among those that have become firm favourites.

It looks promising for future generations to join that fine list with Ollie Griffiths and Harri Keddie in particular having the talent, attitude and mindset to become regulars in the Wales squad.

But before a ball was kicked this season it was clear the Dragons needed some grown men to shoulder the burden in the back row and the situation has been exacerbated.

When Jackman arrived he inherited a squad that was sadly deprived of number Ed Jackson – one of the Dragons’ few explosive ball carriers – and then Lewis Evans suffered an Achilles injury and Nic Cudd ruptured knee ligaments.

It got worse when Keddie suffered a shoulder injury against Connacht a fortnight ago that will sideline him for a couple of months.

Suddenly 22-year-old Griffiths, with just 42 Dragons games to his name, is an even more pivotal figure in a back row that is completed by James Thomas and James Benjamin, two talents but players who had a combined tally of just seven starts last season.

Their back-up is currently 19-year-old Max Williams, 18-year-old Lennon Greggains and 20-year-old Aaron Wainwright.

With October derbies at Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys on the horizon then a November that pits the Dragons against Leinster in Dublin and Munster in Cork, Jackman is hopefully on the phone calling in a favour.

In February, 2016 experienced flanker Ben White arrived on a short-term deal from Exeter to help get the Rodney Parade region out of a pickle and they could do with a similar signing.

Jackman has already plugged a midfield gap with the arrival of USA centre/wing Thretton Palamo from Bristol while 19-year-old Cardiff Blues scrum-half Dane Blacker is covering Sarel Pretorius while Charlie Davies recovers from a head injury.

The management could do with an addition in the back row and preferably one who has been around the block.

The decision to let Nick Crosswell go last season was an odd one that has been made to look even odder; the affable New Zealander was and would still be the perfect fit as a consistent performer and mentor to the young talent on the Dragons books.

There are some terrific prospects in the academy and Williams and Greggains have acquitted themselves well in their unexpected outings in the PRO14 this season.

Jackman and his coaches should reap the rewards of such a policy in years to come and the experience of a packed Ravenhill should serve the teenage back row forwards, debutant wing George Gasson and scrum-half Owain Leonard well.

But this is another familiar tale for the Dragons; we have been told so many times about short-term pain leading to long-term gain thanks to exposing talent to daunting professional experiences.

Griffiths made his bow in Belfast three years ago, Will Talbot-Davies and Leon Brown made debuts at Leicester last November (the latter against Marcos Ayerza and Ellis Genge), Tyler Morgan’s first league outing was at Judgement Day against the Ospreys as a teenager.

Tough outings hammer home the standards that are required to be a top pro and giving youngsters that experience rather than seasoned campaigners on a downward trajectory has its value.

Jackman is already making it clear that he doesn’t rate certain members of the squad and he’d rather use games to educate future talent than waste game time on those that he will cut.

Yet there is a balance to be made and at the moment the Dragons are in dire need of a wise owl in the back row; they desperately need Evans to get back fully fit soon and then stay fit.

But in a position that’s so demanding on the body Jackman needs to bolster his ranks with another established campaigner, and frankly it doesn’t matter if they are Welsh.

Flinging youngsters in at the deep end can build their character and provide rapid learning yet it can also be hugely damaging if teens are all in the team together.

Every prospect needs a mentor and another back row forward with some miles on the clock is needed at Rodney Parade, otherwise the learnings for the rest of the team in what was always going be a transitional season are also at peril.