DRAGONS prospects have been warned they will have to earn opportunities in the Premiership rather than being gifted them in the coming campaign.

The Rodney Parade region have just two clubs in the top flight, Ebbw Vale and Newport, after last season saw Cross Keys, Bedwas and Bargoed relegated.

The Celtic Cup was introduced last year to bridge the gap between semi-professional and professional rugby and in World Cup year will be played before the Guinness PRO14 starts at the end of September, but the Premiership remains an important part of the Dragons’ plans.

Club rugby presents a chance to impress new director of rugby Dean Ryan, but players have been warned they can’t just expect to be parachuted in to replace Ebbw and Newport regulars.

“It makes our players have to fight harder to play. Having five teams, we probably had too many opportunities to play,” said Dragons general rugby manager James Chapron.

“One of our foundations for younger players is that they have to earn the right to pull on a jersey, and at times in the past that has potentially not been the case.

“Now it will be harder for them, particularly with Newport and Ebbw Vale being two strong clubs.

“But we also have a mix between good Championship sides and Premiership, so we can be more appropriate with the opportunities that we give players.

“Rather than expecting a player from the under-18s to jump straight into the Premiership they can go and play in some Championship rugby until they are physically and emotionally ready.”

Talks have already been held with the Steelmen and Black and Ambers to plot 2019/20 and help them avoid being the sole relegated team.

“We can’t afford to lose any more Premiership sides and we got caught in a situation last year when we had three clubs down the bottom,” said Chapron.

“Whereas some other regions were able to single out one team, we couldn’t favour one or the other, plus we simply didn’t have the playing resources to delve into at certain times of the year.

“Having two teams, we’ve already met with Greg (Woods, Ebbw head coach) and Ty (Morris, Newport boss) to talk about how allocation works moving forward, what players they will have access to and joining up their player plans with our Premiership player programme.”

Former hooker Chapron coached in the Premiership with Pontypool before heading for a role with the Dragons academy in 2012.

He has seen first-hand that club rugby can be useful for both seasoned campaigners and up-and-coming talent.

“Premiership is still a vehicle for our players,” said Chapron. “The Celtic Cup is a bridging point for our better players moving from 18s through to 23s, it provides a different stimulus and a different type of competition.

“But players will need to play in the Premiership for various reasons throughout their career and one of our focuses is to make sure that playing opportunities are appropriate.

“If you are returning to play from injury, the Premiership can provide that valuable game time that we wouldn’t necessarily have outside of Celtic Cup periods.

“If you are a younger player learning your trade, particularly front five in the middle of winter, it’s a good vehicle for that, then you have Celtic Cup to complement that with the professional development that players need.

“We have around 25 players in our transition programme who all need game time, and not all 25 are going to play Premiership, they are just not ready to.

“That is where the Championship will fit in, helping to develop the next generation of academy players.

“That should be a really good league because rather than having two or three decent teams there are now six or seven really good ones, which will make the Championship really competitive.”