By Rob Cole
The new era at the Dragons is certainly having a positive effect, given the recent contract renewals signed by Wales squad newbies Leon Brown and Elliot Dee.
Home grown talent committing themselves to play under Bernard Jackman at Rodney Parade is exactly what the Dragons faithful wanted. Hallam Amos was kept out of the clutches of other Welsh regions, Tyler Morgan has remained, and there is a new generation growing up at the club.
Dee played for Wales Under 20 at the 2013 and 2014 Junior World Championships, helping Wales to reach the final in 2013. He now finds himself playing alongside no fewer than seven players from those two squads at the Dragons – James Benjamin, Tyler Morgan, Hallam Amos, Angus O’Brien, Jack Dixon, Luke Garrett and Joe Davies.
Throw in Brown and Harrison Keddie from the 2016 Grand Slam Under 20 team from 2016, as well as Wales Under 18 players from this year in Taine Basham and Lennon Greggains, and you can see the talent that is being produced in the region. The challenge for Jackman is to mould it into a winning team.
In the recent past the best players have moved on – Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau – but with the Welsh Rugby Union’s backing it looks as though things might be changing. The sight of skipper Cory Hill, Dee, Brown, Morgan and Amos in Warren Gatland’s Wales squad for the 2017 Under Armour Series will be hugely encouraging to the rest of the Dragons players.
With five tries in six games this season, including two Guinness PRO14 Man of the Match awards, the 23-year-old Dee’s form has pushed him into contention for a senior Wales cap as he challenges British & Irish Lions hooker Ken Owens and Cardiff Blues Kristian Dacey for the No 2 jersey.
“It feels great to have hit a bit of form and I am really proud to have signed a new three-year deal for the Dragons. I always wanted to play for the Dragons ever since I came down to Rodney Parade to watch the likes of Rob Sidoli and Tom Willis play,” said Dee.
“I’m from Gwent and I wouldn’t have wanted to sign anywhere else. There are probably a group of 8-10 boys who I have grown up with and played rugby alongside.
“We always say before we go out and play that there is nothing better than going to war with your friends. You can look to your left or your right and you know that they will put in 100%.”
Dee learned his rugby at Newbridge Comprehensive School, Coleg Gwent and Penallta and Newbridge rugby clubs. He won caps at Wales Under 18 and Under 20 levels and played for Pontypool, Cross Keys and Bedwas while earning his spurs in the Dragons Academy.
The 6ft 1in, 16st 9lb hooker is obviously growing under the guidance of former Irish international Jackman and has greatly impressed the new Dragons head coach in the short time they have worked together this season.
“Elliot is one of the hardest trainers I have coached. He strives to get better every day and is passionate about the Dragons and the future of the Region,” said Jackman.
“I feel the environment that we are creating at the Dragons can help Elliot fulfil his dream of playing for Wales.”