A potential starting Dragons XV next season could include as many 12 capped Wales internationals, after significant signings from head coach Dean Ryan. The former England backrow continues to build on the recruitment drive started by his predecessor Bernard Jackman, and although they’ve lost the services of internationals Cory Hill and Tyler Morgan, the squad depth is continuing to deepen in other positions.
When the WRU took over in the struggling Newport-based region in 2017, the mission was clear: build a side capable of producing and nurturing Welsh qualified talent for the national team and secondly, to have a union-controlled Welsh-based PRO14 side that could facilitate the repatriation of Welsh talent playing over the border.
It seems now that after three years, those plans are starting to bear fruit. While over the last decade, the Dragons have produced the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Hallam Amos, the region had typically been viewed as a distant fourth when it came to producing Welsh internationals.
Yet Ryan has a squad brimming with Welsh qualified players across the team and a host of starting players that with international experience. Tellingly, they also promoted seven players from the academy to the senior squad.
They haven’t had it all their own way of course. The loss of Cory Hill in particular is a massive dent to their second-row stocks. The club are also yet to secure an extension for Samoan international Branden Nansen, who is off-contract at the end of the season. Nansen played just three times so far this season.
Against this, the relatively unheralded Connacht lock Joe Maksymiw has also been linked with a move to Gwent. The 6 foot 7 inch 24-year-old is Welsh qualified. With Hill injured for much of the season, the pairing of powerful built Joseph Davies and athletic Matthew Screech, have been Ryan’s go-to locks. There are also high hopes for young Max Williams, a standout at U20s for Wales.
In the centres, Morgan’s loss will also be keenly felt, although should the Dragons secure one or both of the heavily linked duo, Nick Tompkins and Joe Tomane, that would go some way to bolstering their midfield options. Regional veterans Jack Dixon and Adam Warren, as well as the Welsh qualified Tom Griffiths, will also be ready to fight it out for starting berths with any incoming midfield talent.
Ryan has also hinted that incoming back three option Jonah Holmes could potentially move across to cover 13. With Ashton Hewitt, Jordan Williams, Jared Rosser, Rio Dyer, Owen Jenkins, Will Talbot-Davies and Dafydd Howells on call for Ryan in the back three, Holmes moving to the centre won’t leave them wanting out wide.
Backrow is an area of huge strength for the Dragons. Taine Basham, who has only just been promoted from the academy ahead of next season despite playing 17 games in the current campaign, is being mooted as a future Test player. Ollie Griffiths, Huw Taylor, Harrison Keddie, veteran Lewis Evans and British and Irish Lion Ross Moriarty mean Ryan has firepower at his disposal, no matter what backrow unit he puts out. Aaron Wainwright has been arguably been the region’s most high-profile success, shining at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Dragons frontrow is also well stocked with Welsh ready players. Josh Reynolds has been a star for them this season, while Aaron Jarvis, hulking Test tighthead Leon Brown, Lloyd Fairbrother, Brok Harris and Ryan Bevington together provide a healthy mix of experience and size. Elliot Dee might be the heir apparent to Welsh Number 2 jersey, with Ellis Shipp nipping at his heels, while the iconic Richard Hibbard continues to set standards at the region, albeit in the autumn of his career. The hooker has reportedly joined Aberavon Quins coaching staff.
Here’s what a Welsh cap heavy Dragons starting XV might look like next season.
A POTENTIAL DRAGONS XV
1 Aaron Jarvis
2 Elliot Dee
3 Leon Brown
4 Joseph Davies
5 Matthew Screech
6 Aaron Wainwright
7 Taine Basham
8 Ross Moriarty
9 Rhodri Williams
10 Sam Davies
11 Ashton Hewitt
12 Joe Tomane
13 Nick Tompkins
14 Jonah Holmes
15 Jordan Williams
16 Richard Hibbard
17 Josh Reynolds
18 Lloyd Fairbrother
19 Max Williams
20 Huw Taylor
21 Tavis Knoyle
22 Arwel Robson
23 Jared Rosser
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