IT was a painful phone call that Elliot Dee nearly didn’t take but one the Dragons hooker believes gave him a much-needed “kick up the backside”.

The 26-year-old from Newbridge was at home in front of the fireplace when his phone buzzed with the name of Wales boss Wayne Pivac coming up on the caller ID.

On the eve of the autumn squad announcement, it could only be bad news.

Dee was given his Test debut by Warren Gatland in November 2017 and had featured in 29 of 31 possible Tests up to the World Cup bronze match against New Zealand.

However, injuries sidelined him for the 2019 Six Nations and then Pivac told him that Ken Owens, Ryan Elias and Sam Parry were getting the nod for the autumn.

“It was one of those situations where you think 'do I really want to answer this?' but I talked it through with Wayne and we agreed that I hadn’t been in my top, top form,” said Dee.

“Straight away when I came off the phone I realised that I needed to pull my socks up a bit and work on things if that was where I wanted to get back to.”

Free Press Series: Elliot Dee (right) after Wales' loss to South Africa at the World CupElliot Dee (right) after Wales' loss to South Africa at the World Cup

It turned out to be a short shock; an injury to Owens meant that Dee was given a swift recall.

But the initial disappointment and realisation that he was behind Elias and Parry in the pecking order led to the Dragons talisman reflecting on his rugby.

“It was tough to take and came off the back of a tricky year after the World Cup,” said Dee.

“There were all those highs before coming into a season late, playing a few games, then getting injured before the Six Nations and not being able to do anything about it [because of lockdown].

“I was gutted not to be involved at the start of the autumn but maybe it was the kick up the backside that I needed.

“It gave me the chance to look back and reflect, to not just go with he flow all the time. I could reassess, set some goals and focus on myself, outlining some things that I want to be better at.”

It also helped Dee to become less of a rugby obsessive, to not allow the sport to dictate his mood.

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“Going into camp I knew that it would take a couple of weeks to put my best foot forward and impress the coaches to try and get some game time,” said the Dragons front rower, who came off the bench against Ireland, England and Italy and started against Georgia.

READ MORE: Dee's reaction earned recall - Pivac

“There was good competition but luckily that came and I really started enjoying rugby again. I was going out there not doing it for anyone else, just myself.

“I am enjoying playing, enjoying training and not putting too much pressure on myself. Rugby has highs and lows, you need to go with both.

“I am enjoying the little things that come off in training and games, enjoying what I did when I first started playing rugby.

“Missing out was a blessing in disguise really. It’s helped me learn to switch off a bit as well, to not take rugby home.

“If something hasn't gone well in training then I feel I am able to still have good time with my fiancée, dog, dad, family.

“I'll not let it drag me down all the time because at the end of the day you play rugby because you love it, and you can't totally let it rule your life.”

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Yet Dee & Co will hope that rugby will put them in a good mood on Friday evening, when they travel to Llanelli for part two of their derby trilogy.

Dee went up against Cardiff Blues’ Kristian Dacey on Boxing Day and on New Year’s Day he is likely to face the Scarlets’ Elias then a week later it will be the Ospreys’ Parry.

"There is that extra bit of spice because you want to get one up on them,” he said.

"Someone might give you a little trip or there might be a little bit of niggle at the bottom of a ruck. That adds to these games."

That and the duels that could ensure Dee is in the matchday 23 when Wales kick off the 2021 Six Nations against Ireland.