BYRON Hayward believes Newport Gwent Dragons' under-18s have shown they have the talent to become Welsh champions after recording a terrific English double, writes Chris Kirwan.
The region's young guns followed up last week's 34-24 win against Northampton at Franklin's Gardens by beating Wasps 39-27 at Ystrad Mynach on Monday afternoon thanks to tries by scrum-half Ben Pesci, centre Patric Lewis (2), back row forward Mike Herbert, fly-half Josh Malson and hooker Ellis Shipp.
The Dragons were sharper than their English visitors with ball in hand, with wing Lloyd Lewis a constant menace, and also stood firm in a bruising encounter.
The region lost to Cardiff Blues in the final of the WRU under-18 regional championship last January but academy skills coach Hayward believes they can go one better this winter.
"They can be really proud after beating two quality English sides," said Hayward. "This past week has been a really good learning curve for them and the boys are starting to realise how physical senior rugby will be.
"There is a lot of talent coming through the system and the Dragons' future is bright – (director of rugby) Lyn Jones is keen to develop the youngsters and bring them through, hence Barney Nightingale and Connor Edwards playing in the pre-season game against Bristol.
"I believe that this group has the talent, work ethic and right environment to win the regional tournament, which is something that the Dragons have never done."
The win over Wasps was a fitting finale to life with the Dragons for ex-Wales fly-half/full-back Hayward, who leaves to become Scarlets defence coach next week.
"It's a big challenge and it will be nice to be in the top-end of the game again," said the 45-year-old from Blaina, who watched his new side draw at Bath last Saturday.
"It's going to be demanding but, whether a player or a coach, you are in sport to push yourself."
- Edwards was stretchered off the field in a neck brace as a precaution after suffering a blow in the final stages of the win against Wasps but was given the all-clear by ambulance staff.
- The Dragons Under-16s were beaten by their Wasps counterparts 51-17 at Ystrad Mynach.