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The Dragons hope that the three players will benefit from time in New Zealand club game, developing their game and mindset, with the opportunity to connect with clubs on the other side of the world made possible through Kiwi Steve Hale and his rugby recruitment business.

Hale explains how the move came about, “I played prop for Guernsey in the Channel Islands for a couple of years and the hooker and the loose head, Paul and Steve Thomas, were brothers from Morriston, Swansea. 

“New Zealanders have a great rapport with the Welsh given our love of the game and I became good mates with them. 

“Ten years ago I started bringing some players in to New Zealand for my club, then I worked for a New Zealand agent and now I've set up my own rugby recruitment business.

“I've a great list of contacts of coaches and clubs and when I talked to them about the possibility of some Dragons players coming out they were very interested indeed.

“I knew it would be a great fit to bring some Welsh players in to Waikato. I got talking to Paul and he said his son Joe was having a run with the Dragons on loan, so I started following Bernard Jackman on twitter and we got talking there. 

“Barry Maddocks was heading out for some time with the Chiefs, so I picked them up and took them to meet the Chiefs scrum coach and the next day I spoke to Bernard again and we talked about bringing some Dragons boys out to play and the relationship was cemented.

“The wife would say I spend too long on the phone and laptop, but it's how you make good connections.”

Prop Suter joined the Dragons from the Ospreys last summer, but a ruptured Achilles suffered in pre-season meant he made just four appearances, returning for the clash against Scarlets in the season finale at the Principality Stadium.

The hope now is Suter’s prospects will aided by a spell on the North Island and Hale confirms the only way the three Dragons players have been able to impress in New Zealand is by working hard.

“Waikato is one of the traditional rugby provinces with a real rugby culture that reminds me of parts of Wales in some ways. 

“There's no frills or freebees here and not much money in New Zealand rugby, so the only way you are going to impress people is to go out and play well and that's exactly what Henri, Dan and Tom have done.

“It does a little bit of time to acclimatise and get over the jet lag and get used to the way of playing down here. They are playing at clubs where there's no guarantee of them getting a game and they've all done well.

“Dan is now starting at tighthead for a side that has two Waikato props in the matchday 23, and is keeping one of them on the bench now Dan is starting. He's playing for Otorohanga and they just beat the top team in the Waikato last week and are looking at a home semi-final, so there's no doubt Dan is grafting.”

Academy player Williams is playing at Fraser Tech, which is the club associated with John Mitchell, the former All Blacks and England coach.  Within a couple of weeks Henri was becoming very prominent with ball in hand and in defence as well as taking a senior role in the set piece.

“Henri went into the Fraser Tech first team, playing his way into the starting line up off the bench after a week or two, but Dan and Tom to their credit spent time in the Seconds before playing their way into premier side line-ups and that says a lot about their character.

“I was talking to Henri shortly after he started, and he was swatting up on the analysis, doing his homework around the set piece, but our guys here will learn a lot from him too. 

“He's doing a good job in their scrum and showing mobility around the field.

“Tom has done very well, he's playing for Morrinsville Sports which is Brendan Leonard's club, and the starting centre for them was Dwayne Sweeney who has played for the Chiefs, New Zealand 7s and Maori All Blacks, so Tom had to bide his time, but he's now starting for them after putting in the work.

“The great thing about all three of them is they are just as popular off the field with the locals as they are on it with the players.”

The amateur season in New Zealand is short with the Waikato finals scheduled for the end of July, but there are some sides in the Heartland Championship that are interested in the players staying on longer. The Heartland Championship is a nationwide twelve province competition below the professional Mitre 10 Cup, so if selected Suter and his fellow Dragons could be following the likes of former England captain Martin Johnson in getting game time in this competition.

As Dragons fans know well, it’s through players being given exposure and game-time that they can rise to the top. The meteoric rise of Leon Brown and Aaron Wainwright in claiming their first Wales caps is testament to that and Hales agrees citing recently capped Karl Tu'inukuafe as the most recent All Blacks example.

“My brother in law scrum coach for the Chiefs and by April the Chiefs had lost their six first choice props. 

“Karl Tu'inukuafe who made his Test debut against France was the seventh choice prop and didn’t even have a contract earlier in the year and has now played three Test matches after making his debut early season.”

Hale sees benefit both ways for the Waikato-Dragons connection in sharing knowledge, and players opportunities, so he hopes it is one that can last. 

“I hope it's a relationship we can continue in future years, I know there's some players out 
here who would love to play in the Welsh Premiership and if Bernard is happy we could welcome more Dragons out here in future. 

“New Zealand rugby can learn a lot from the professional game in the northern hemisphere.”
 
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