8:54am Thursday 6th February 2014
SCOTT Matthews may be reluctantly sidelined for Wales Under-20s' Six Nations clash with Ireland tomorrow evening but another Newport Gwent Dragons back row forward has been tipped to fill the void, writes Chris Kirwan.
Openside flanker Matthews was man of the match in the opening weekend win against Italy at Colwyn Bay, impressing with his destructive ball carrying and tenacious tackling.
However, the 19-year-old Cross Keys tyro suffered a deep cut to the knee and the management team have opted for a safety first approach rather than risking an infection.
It means that Matthews is unable to build on a super start to the tournament but can take consolation from words of praise from his head coach.
"I've been watching Scott closely all season and I would say that he has been the Premiership player of the year," said Byron Hayward.
"Scott consistently plays at a high level. He has the heart of a lion, is as hard as nails and is a very coachable player who is knowledgeable about the game.
"He was outstanding against Italy, working so hard and putting in plenty of carries and tackles.
"Scott's gutted to miss out and he would have played if it was down to him. In fact, he'd play seven days a week if he could - he just loves the game.
"But as coaches we look at the long term and I am sure when the France game comes around in a fortnight he will be glad."
Wales are, however, able to call on another impressive young Dragons back row forward that shifts to seven from number eight.
James Benjamin was close to pipping Matthews to man of the match after an energetic try-scoring display at Eirias Park.
"James is a player in the Justin Tipuric mould – he is a great footballer and could play in the backs," said Hayward.
"He has played openside for the last 18 months and is a player that we feel needs to be in the side (wherever he plays in the back row). This is a great opportunity for him and I am confident he will do a great job."
Benjamin is joined in the matchday squad by six Dragons teammates. Ethan Davies retains his place at fly-half while Ashton Hewitt and Scott Andrews earn starts at wing and lock respectively while prop Luke Garrett, flanker Ollie Griffiths and centre Tyler Morgan are on the bench.
Hewitt and Morgan, like Matthews and Benjamin, featured for the Dragons in the LV= Cup this season.
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