IN 2012 Aaron Wainwright was inspired by the man that had 4 on his back when the Stade de France celebrated a home World Cup win. Now the Dragons flanker has dreams of wearing the 6 jersey in Paris.

The 21-year-old from Bassaleg’s rapid rise since he made his professional debut in October, 2017 has been well documented, with his late introduction to rugby at the age of 17 after previously being a footballer on the books of Cardiff City and Newport County.

In those days the aspiring midfielder “didn’t really watch much rugby at all” and the red jerseys that he wanted to wear had a dragon or cannon on them rather than the three feathers.

The Arsenal fan was only nine months old when Patrick Vieira came off the bench in France’s World Cup win in 1998 but seven years ago the iconic Gunner, who was doing his coaching badges with the FAW in Newport, gave a young Wainwright a masterclass.

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(Picture courtesy of Aaron Wainwright)

"We had two or three days up at the University of Glamorgan playing fields with Wales Under-16s,” he said.

“I was in the squad, but I didn't play a cap game for them, and some of the retired pros were doing their coaching badges so we had players like David Ginola and Patrick Vieira taking coaching sessions.

“Being a centre midfielder back then, he [Vieira] took one of the sessions I was in and I was star-struck watching him giving me tips and tactics.

"It was definitely one of the best footballing memories I have."

Vieira was a key member of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ that went through the 2003/4 Premier League season unbeaten.

Wainwright’s tally of caps is only three but he is yet to taste defeat with Wales, a record that will be put to the test over the coming weeks in the Six Nations.

The flanker made his Test debut off the bench in Argentina last summer, made his first start against Tonga in November then came on in the opening stages of the win against South Africa.

His performances in the festive derbies against Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys and Scarlets meant that he went from being a surprise inclusion for the autumn to a shoo-in for the Six Nations.

Wales’ back row injury problems – with his Dragons teammate Ross Moriarty facing a race against time to prove his fitness for Paris – mean that Wainwright has a great chance of being involved in the Friday night opener against Les Bleus.

Typically, the flanker is not getting ahead of himself before he links up with rivals Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Josh Turnbull and Thomas Young.

"The Six Nations is another step again, probably the biggest campaign I've been involved in so I'm looking forward to that, it'll be a new challenge,” said Wainwright, who has played blindside for Wales but has recently been openside for the Dragons.

“Hopefully I will get into camp, train well and put down a marker again. If I get a chance to play then hopefully I'll show what I can do.

"I think if I can show I can make a difference I've got a chance of putting my hand up [for Paris], but I've got to keep hard and show what I can do."

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Before last autumn’s clean sweep Gatland called on his players to show their point of difference in World Cup year.

Wainwright believes his strengths are “my work rate, I guess, and being dynamic across the park” and he gets the chance to impress the national boss against top-quality opposition tomorrow.

Before heading to Wales’ headquarters he has one last game for the Dragons in their European Challenge Cup finale against Clermont Auvergne.

A big performance against this hefty French pack could earn a shot at another one in Paris on Friday, February 1.

“If I am selected then I will be over the moon but that will be determined by how well I play on Friday and how well I start training,” said Wainwright.

"I'm happy to be selected for Wales and I just want to get amongst the boys again, but I'm focusing on Friday first before the challenge of the Six Nations. I'm going to give everything.

“We know that they are going to be a big, physical pack and they are not afraid to play from anywhere, but we did well against them in December. It’s just a case of taking our chances because we had good moments in the game.”

The Dragons name their team at midday tomorrow with Wainwright likely to be joined in the back row by Harri Keddie and Ollie Griffiths, who made his return from a knee injury off the bench in last week’s 59-3 win against Timisoara Saracens.