THE DRAGONS have signed a pair of hookers after former Wales front rower Rhys Thomas decided to hang up his boots to pursue his coaching career with the academy.

The Rodney Parade side have snapped up Welsh-qualified Gerard Ellis from London Irish and Liam Belcher from Cardiff Blues who have both been training at Ystrad Mynach under the watchful eye of new boss Bernard Jackman.

The pair will tussle with Elliot Dee and Rhys Buckley for the number 2 jersey with Thomas taking on an academy role at the end of an illustrious career that saw him win 27 caps.

The 35-year-old made 70 appearances for the Dragons and captained the side in 2015/16 after previously playing for Wasps and Cardiff Blues, helping the Welsh region win the Amlin Challenge Cup by stunning a star-studded Toulon in 2010.

Thomas has been an influential figure in helping the younger members of the Dragons’ senior squad and, after previously coaching age-grade sides alongside his playing commitments, he will continue to play a key role in developing future generations under academy boss James Chapron.

The former Wales hooker leaves Dee and Buckley to battle with two new boys for the 2 jersey.

Ellis, 24, is a mobile, ball-carrying hooker who was a back row forward when he came through the ranks at Irish.

Born in Southampton, he qualifies for both England and Wales through his parents and captained Llandovery College before returning to Reading where he was converted into a front rower.

Belcher, from Treorchy, was released at the end of last season by the Blues after making three appearances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

The 21-year-old was a member of the Wales Under-20s side that won the Six Nations Grand Slam last year, playing in the pack with Dragons forwards Harri Keddie and Leon Brown.

Last season Buckley made 26 appearances for the Dragons while the highly-rated Dee suffered an injury-blighted campaign in which he played just 11 times.

New boss Jackman, himself a former hooker with Ireland and Leinster, has pledged that there is no pecking order ahead of the start of the new league campaign.

All four hookers are set to get opportunities to impress in the friendlies against Montpellier, Northampton and Exeter.

The Dragons also have the young pair of Ellis Shipp and Owen Hughes on their books.

The pair represented Wales at the World Rugby U20 Championship this summer after the former, 19, made his regional debut off the bench in the 2016/17 finale against Cardiff Blues in Caerphilly.