WARREN Gatland says Aaron Wainwright has repaid the faith shown in him by the Wales management – and has declared the Dragons flanker could be “pretty special” after being selected in the World Cup training squad.

The 21-year-old from Bassaleg has added to the head coach’s back row selection headache for Japan 2019 after a remarkable rise.

Wainwright, who only made his professional debut in October 2017, won his first cap in Argentina last summer, made his first start against Tonga in the autumn and featured in every game of the Six Nations Grand Slam.

The Dragons prospect has leapt up the pecking order and will now battle to be a member of Gatland’s 31-man squad for Japan.

Free Press Series:

The Wales boss has named his Six Nations starting trio of Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric along with former Dragons favourite Taulupe Faletau, who will surely be a shoo-in on his return from an arm injury.

That leaves Wainwright battling with fit-again blindside Aaron Shingler and his Scarlets teammate James Davies for the final back row spot.

Ellis Jenkins has not been named in the initial 42-man squad after rupturing knee ligaments in the closing stages of a man of the match performance against South Africa last autumn but could be a late addition if he proves his fitness, as could Wasps openside Thomas Young.

Free Press Series:

“Aaron is doing well,” said Gatland. “When he first came in the squad we couldn’t get a word out of him and he was pretty quiet but there is no doubt that he has impressed everyone with his physicality.

“He could be pretty special in the next year or two because he is a great athlete, is quick and is getting better every campaign.

“Aaron was good at seven (against the Scarlets) the other day, he has been great for us coming off the bench and is there on merit for what he has done.

“We are in a very strong position in terms of having a lot of quality and depth and Aaron was a player that we spoke about, knowing that there was a little bit of X-factor in him before we named him in a squad.

“He has rewarded us for that faith we showed in him, when a lot of people saw that initial selection as a bit of a surprise in terms of them touting other players. Aaron has fully deserved that selection and people have recognised what he has achieved.”

Wainwright is joined in the squad by five Dragons teammates.

Hooker Elliot Dee, lock Cory Hill and Moriarty are in good shape to make the final cut after featuring prominently in the Grand Slam.

Cardiff Blues-bound wing Hallam Amos, who made a solitary appearance off the bench in Italy, is tussling for a place in the back three while tighthead Leon Brown will try to put the heat on the trio of Tomas Francis, Samson Lee and Dillion Lewis.

l More Wales on page 38