HAD things panned out differently, Aaron Wainwright could have been preparing for a glamour FA Cup tie at Wembley, or a Premier League promotion push, but the forward is instead relishing the battle for starts in the Dragons back row.

It has been a breakthrough season for the 20-year-old from Rogerstone, who made his regional debut in October and has since racked up 16 appearances, even catching the eye of the Wales management.

Energetic and abrasive, the flanker has grasped the chance that materialised because of a back row injury crisis, but Wainwright’s first love was the round ball.

As a 5ft 5ins, 70kg central midfielder, he featured in teams alongside Manchester United’s Regan Poole and Bristol Rovers’ Rollin Menayese.

“I was with Cardiff City from under-10s to under-16s, then I got released and joined Newport County,” said Wainwright.

“I got offered a scholarship to stay on there but didn’t want to move school and stayed at Bassaleg.

“I didn’t really have anything to do then and my mates were playing rugby on Saturdays at the local club, Whiteheads, so I joined them.”

A growth spurt in Year 11 helped him make an impact with an oval ball and after just taking up the sport at 17 he was soon spotted by the Dragons Under-18s.

He spent last season playing for Cardiff Met in the WRU National Championship and had expected to continue his development with Newport RFC in the Principality Premiership this season.

That was before a crippling back row crisis that sidelined Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans, Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths and James Thomas.

Their misfortune has led to Wainwright, who starts at blindside against Worcester Warriors in the Anglo-Welsh Cup this evening, getting more chances than he dreamt of.

“I am loving the run of games that I am having,” said the flanker, who has sat out just the Anglo-Welsh Cup game with the Scarlets since his debut against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.

“I am just trying to play well week in, week out and hopefully when the boys come back I can keep my place in the team or push them for their spot.

“I wasn’t expecting as much involvement as this and I am enjoying learning every day when I come to training with the boys helping me to get better.”

That assistance isn’t just coming from the coaching staff; the back row rivals are giving each other feedback in Ystrad Mynach.

“In the week we have ‘Tactical Tuesdays’ when we talk about certain areas we can improve on as individuals,” said Wainwright.

“If I make a mistake in games I can look back in analysis and the boys will help me out, especially with my lineout work which is coming along. I also need to work on my jackaling and tackling with the little details to slow the ball down.

“It will be good to have the other back row forwards back because we are training on the field they will be able to help me improve.”

Those strides will be monitored by Wales after forwards coach Robin McBryde spoke unprompted about being impressed by Wainwright’s hard carrying.

“All the boys gave me a bit of stick for it!” said the flanker. “It’s good to get your name out there but I just want to keep on improving and playing well here. If things do progress in the future, happy days.”