Darren Waters: I leave the Dragons with a heavy heart after overwhelming support
FLANKER Darren Waters admits it was hard to say goodbye to Newport Gwent Dragons after all that the region has done for him but the chance to test himself in the Aviva Premiership with London Welsh was too good to pass up.
The 29-year-old has been released from the final year of his contract to sign for the Exiles, who have been promoted to the top flight of English rugby after stunning big-spending Bristol in the Championship playoffs.
Waters, who signed for the Dragons in 2011 after catching the eye with Pontypridd, is due some luck after a nightmare couple of seasons.
The former bricklayer was tipped for a breakthrough campaign in 2012/13 only for it to be a write-off after he ruptured knee ligaments in a pre-season friendly against London Irish.
Last season was also ruined when the flanker suffered a summer repeat of the injury, meaning he has played just four times for the region in two years.
But such worries pale into insignificance compared to what his wife Kirsty has been through after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012 when six months pregnant and then undergoing radiotherapy following the arrival of their son Lucas.
She has since been given the all clear and the flanker will never forget the support he received.
"I've got mixed emotions about my new challenge because the Dragons have been incredible after all that has happened over the past few seasons," said Waters.
"The medical team have been flawless in getting me back to fitness after my injuries, which I think would've broken most players, while there were so many people at the region that supported me when my wife had her problems.
"I wouldn't have made it through if my teammates hadn't been there for me, so it's tough to say goodbye but I'm excited about what is ahead with London Welsh."
Waters has been training with the Dragons for the last three weeks but will link up with Welsh for the first time on Monday.
The manner with which the Exiles dismantled Bristol suggests that the abrasive back row forward will be a perfect fit at the Kassam Stadium.
"They play with physicality, they love the battle at the contact area and they fight for each other until the final whistle," said Waters. "That suits me down to the ground and I can't wait to test myself in the biggest league in Europe.
"I know I will have to perform well to get in the side but I am excited by a fresh challenge and to be honest I probably needed a change of scene.
"I'm a strong believer that if you keep fighting for something you will get there in the end and I am determined to show my qualities on a big stage."
The Dragons are well-stocked for opensides with player of the year Lewis Evans and Nic Cudd backed up by Wales Under-20s prospects James Benjamin, Scott Matthews and Ollie Griffiths.