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Academy graduates shine on highest stage

11/01/2021

Centre Aneurin Owen has relished his taste of senior rugby this season – and has spoken about his excitement to see so many fellow Dragons Academy aces make the step up.

Highly-rated playmaker Owen, 20, is currently in his first full season of regional rugby, although this is the second year he has been training with the senior group.

The former Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw pupil had always dreamed about playing for his home region.

That became a reality when he came on as a replacement against Begles-Bordeaux at Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas in the Heineken Champions Cup.

In doing so, he became the 300th player to be capped by the Dragons.

“I only got told about the figure after the game – it was pretty cool but I think making my debut was something I wanted to do for a long time,” he said.

"Growing up I always wanted to play for the Dragons so it wasn’t really about being 300, but just getting on the pitch and playing for them and it’s all about kicking on now really.”

Owen also had a first taste of derby rugby at Parc y Scarlets on New Year’s Day, coming on as a first half replacement.

His deft handling skills and strong defence earned plaudits from boss Dean Ryan after the game.

“It was another experience to learn from and get better from,” he said.

“The more games you get involved in at that sort of level the better it is for you.

“Coming on in those sorts of game and understanding you can play at that level gives you a lot of confidence. You can try and push on and get better and try and work your way up really.”

Owen has been joined by fly half Evan Lloyd, prop Luke Yendle and second row Ben Carter as graduating from the Dragons Academy this season, with all four having now played in Europe this season.

And Owen believes it’s testament to an Academy programme that youth is being given its chance by Ryan.

“The group we have had coming through the Academy has always tried to create that type of mentality where we push each other on and keep trying to get better,” he revealed.

“A lot of us have been wanting to get an opportunity and if you are patient enough eventually you will get a chance.

“Ben Carter is one of the hardest working boys I know, he 100% deserves an opportunity and he showed in the Glasgow game how good he can be. It’s only positive to see boys like him, Evs and Luke come through.”

Owen highlights tighthead prop Luke Yendle as an example of someone who took his chance when it came in unexpected circumstances.

Due to the match day squad being rocked with a COVID outbreak, Yendle was added to the bench at the 11th hour against Wasps in the Heineken Champions Cup opener at Rodney Parade.

“It’s about just taking your opportunities however they come, whether it’s through being patient and working hard and you’ll eventually get an opportunity or if it comes through a way like COVID or injury, just taking it and grab it with two hands and Luke’s doing really well.”

Alongside the young quartet who have earned their stripes in Europe this season, the likes of Rio Dyer, Taine Basham and Jared Rosser have all come through the Dragons Academy system and Owen is hoping they can be a catalyst to a brighter future at Rodney Parade.

“A lot of people have been talking about potential for a long time with the Dragons,” he added.

“It’s been the buzz word for a long time now, there is a lot of chat about ‘young players’ stepping up and making that transition to become regulars and creating a group where we’re competitive in the league and in Europe.

“That is something Dean [Ryan] is definitely trying to do and there are a lot of us trying to do that. There is also now a group with a lot more experience so we’re definitely wanting to turn that potential into something with more substance.”

As for the rest of the season, Owen is keen to continue to make an impact.

He said: “All things considered, I was really happy to make my debut and I’ve just got to keep pushing on now.

“You want to learn as much as you can from the centres but you also want to keep pushing them and keep trying to take their spot.

“Create that environment where you’re pushing each other but learning from each other.

“As a youngster I really enjoy being there because they are already a good group of boys so I’m really happy with where I am at the moment.

“Everybody at the Dragons cares for the group and the region so everyone’s working hard to get better.”

Growing up I always wanted to play for the Dragons so it wasn’t really about being 300, but just getting on the pitch and playing for them and it’s all about kicking on now really...
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