Coaching duo Matt O’Brien and Sam Hobbs acknowledge it will be another proud moment for the Dragons Academy when Ben Carter and Taine Basham make Wales debuts this weekend.
Second row Carter starts the clash with Canada at Principality Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) while Wayne Pivac has stated Basham will make an appearance from the bench in the Welsh capital.
The homegrown duo are the latest Dragons Academy products off a rich conveyor belt of talent to graduate to the highest level of the game.
Regional team-mates Elliot Dee, Leon Brown and Aaron Wainwright are also part of the current Wales squad and have followed that same path to the top.
Rising star Aneurin Owen could also be the next in line after spending the last two weeks training in the Wales set-up after an invite from Pivac.
Academy Backs Coach O’Brien is delighted for the young players and believes it will only inspire the next generation of future Dragons to keep working hard to follow in those footsteps.
“It’s brilliant to see both young lads in the Wales squad to play Canada and, ultimately, it shows the pathway here is working," said O'Brien.
“It’s hugely inspirational for the young players we have in our Academy system. They see that if you work hard and perform well then there is a route to the very top.
“It’s easy to forget that Ben Carter was captain of our Regional Age Grade team at Under-18 level just two years ago, when we won the championship. Now he is starting for Wales - it’s a great story.
“It’s also no coincidence that it is Ben, Taine and Aneurin who are breaking into that set-up. They all work extremely hard and don’t just rely on their natural ability to move forward.
“People don't realise just how young Taine is too,” added O’Brien. “He is still only 21 but has already clocked up close to half a century of games for Dragons.
“Taine has always had X-Factor in attack, but has also worked hard on developing a more rounded game and he is a great role model for our younger players.”
Carter will link-up with new Dragon team-mate Will Rowlands in the second row for this weekend’s game, with Pivac revealing he will also call the lineouts on debut.
However, Academy Forwards Coach Sam Hobbs has little doubt that Carter will take it all in his stride.
“I first came across Ben when he was 16 and very quickly it became apparent just how hard he works and how diligent he is. He’s always had that commitment, those great values and is a credit to his parents,” said Hobbs.
“He used to come to training for a couple of hours from Caldicot on the train, via Cardiff. But he always there, never missed a session and was always totally committed to everything he did.
“Ben is the most coachable player I’ve worked with and has made such a smooth transition into the senior set-up. Working with the likes of Dean Ryan, Luke Narraway and Simon Cross, he's taken everything in like a sponge.
“I’m pleased for Taine too, who I’ve worked with in Celtic Cup games and A games. He’s made big strides these last few years, but has also worked hard on the nuts and bolts of his game.
“Taine is a fantastic role model for the Academy lads. When they arrive for training late in the afternoon and they see someone like Taine still here, working hard in the gym and doing his extras, it means something.
“He sets a good example of why you have to be professional in all you do. Both the young lads playing for Wales this weekend have worked so hard for it and fully deserve the opportunity."
It’s been a busy time in recent weeks for the Dragons Academy with the Under-18s returning to action with win three out of four in the Regional Age Grade competition.
At Under-20s level, bright young stars Joe Peard, Carrick McDonough, Will Reed and Morgan Richards have also been involved in Six Nations Championship at Cardiff Arms park.
And O’Brien is already looking forward to the 2021/22 season kicking off and helping the next generation push on.
“The players in the system have a couple more weeks off now to get refreshed before we come back in,” he revealed.
“A group of them will also be training with the senior set-up, as so many players are away with Wales, and that is a great experience for them.
“The number of international call-ups we’ve enjoyed as a region has opened the door for some of the transitional squad - we want them to walk through it and really enjoy it.
“There is no doubt, it’s been a difficult time for that younger generation,” he added. “Every player in the pathway has been impacted by lockdowns and restrictions, some have only experienced a handful of games over the last 16 to 18 months.
“But they’ve all been a credit to themselves and we’re hoping, back in for pre-season, they can enjoy a bit of normality. They’ve been excellent over the last few years and deserve that chance.”
And for Hobbs the opportunity to become the next Ben Carter or Taine Basham will be hugely aspirational for young hopefuls coming through.
“These last couple of years we’ve seen more and more players break through and earn an opportunity with the senior squad, which is great to see,” he said.
“Rio Dyer and Ben Fry had strong seasons last year; Dan Babos, Josh Reynolds and Chris Coleman impressed in the Rainbow Cup while Ellis Shipp did so well before his injury.
“Those players coming up, and the likes of Ben and Taine getting Wales call-ups, is an endorsement for the Academy - and it all stems from the top.
“James Chapron (Rugby General Manager) has built a good foundation at the Academy with the right environment for these players to develop.
“The environment is very much one of support. Dean (Ryan) and the coaching team have been really positive in helping players make that step up from the Academy into senior rugby, with lots of players making debuts regularly.
“First team players like Ross Moriarty, Harrison Keddie and Ollie Griffiths have also been fantastic with the young lads and set a great example.
“Hard work over a number of years is paying dividends in the Academy and supporters can rest assured the hard work will continue as we look to ensure our young players have the right values, right environment and right standards to succeed.”
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It’s easy to forget that Ben Carter was captain of our Regional Age Grade team at Under-18 level just two years ago, when we won the championship... Now he is starting for Wales - it’s a great story...