Wigan's Wembley winner Ben Flower shows the Dragons what they're missing
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons supporters tuning in to the Challenge Cup final last weekend may have just been left to lament one that got away.
Turning out in the famous cherry and white of Wigan at Wembley was Ben Flower, a 25-year-old prop from Abertridwr.
Flower was on the Dragons books as a youngster and represented Wales at under-20, 18 and 16 level, playing alongside Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland and a raft of others who have gone on to win full international honours.
But it wasn’t to be.
Flower was released by the region in 2007 after they had tried to turn him from a back row forward into a hooker.
It might not be a decision quite as bad as Decca turning down the Beatles, but union’s loss turned out to be league’s gain.
Flower, who had already excelled in the 13-man game, was snapped up by the Celtic Crusaders.
That prompted a rise that saw him captain Wales and sign for the famous Warriors but his career highlight (so far) came last weekend when he climbed the famous Wembley steps to watch his captain Sean O'Loughlin lift the Challenge Cup.
“The day is all a bit of a blur,” he said. “Walking out onto the Wembley pitch for the warm-up and seeing the crowd fill up was a bit daunting at first.
“But that a final like that is why I play the game, I was thinking ‘this is it, I’m ready to go to war’.
“The noise and the atmosphere was incredible and for us to come out on top in the game was awesome.
“It’s all been mad since then. It’s been amazing to see how much it means to the people of Wigan, to go on an open-top bus and see so much cherry and white was a special experience.”
Such moments mean that Flower, who plays alongside Abergavenny’s Gil Hudson for Wigan, no longer harbours any grudges at missing out on a deal at Rodney Parade.
“The Dragons letting me go was a blessing, although it hurt at the time,” said Flower, who made 19 appearances in the front row for Bedwas.
“They wanted me to play hooker and that took me away from everything I was good at as an openside flanker.
“To not get a contract was a massive disappointment – but I am glad now.
“No disrespect to the Dragons but they are nothing like Wigan Warriors. There is so much history at this club and we have just won one of the biggest cups in the world.
“I kind of envy a lot of my former teammates, especially when I see them playing for Wales and the Lions.
“But I’ve got plenty of ambitions of my own, I want to win a lot more trophies, starting with the Super League.”
Few would bet against that, especially not Bedwas forwards coach Ian Gardner.
He also taught Flower at St Cenydd Comprehensive in Caerphilly and likens his former pupil to a former Dragons star who fought his way from being a bricklaying hooker at Cross Keys to starring with Wales at the World Cup.
“Ben has a never-say-die attitude and is very similar to Lloyd Burns,” said Gardner. “He has incredible determination and aggression.
“He is the hardest and most destructive player I have coached and his success in league is no surprise. We are all so proud of him."