FEW have grasped their chance better than Aaron Wainwright and the Wales star has urged the Dragons’ next generation to not waste their Rainbow Cup opportunity force their way into the first team.

Wainwright was pretty much an unknown when the Rodney Parade region were preparing for the 2017/18 season.

The back rower had only taken up rugby in his mid-teens and had spent the previous campaign with Cardiff Met in the Championship.

Yet rather than taking the next step with Newport in the Premiership, Wainwright skipped a level and got a shot with Bernard Jackman’s seniors.

He became a regular, caught the eye of the Wales management and was capped against Argentina the following summer. The rise continued with a Grand Slam the following season and then he was a key figure at the World Cup as Warren Gatland’s side made the semi-finals.

Wainwright may still only be 23 but the forward from Bassaleg is now a senior Dragons figure and led the charge in the Rainbow Cup opener against the Scarlets on Sunday.

POWER: Aaron Wainwright is driven over for the Dragons clincher against the Scarlets

POWER: Aaron Wainwright is driven over for the Dragons' clincher against the Scarlets

He scored two of the seven tries in the stunning 52-32 win at Rodney Parade, with boss Dean Ryan getting the balance of his team right.

Wainwright, Ross Moriarty, Jonah Holmes, Rhodri Williams, Sam Davies and Greg Bateman were there to ensure that bright prospects Rio Dyer, Ben Carter, Aneurin Owen, Josh Reynolds, Chris Coleman and Evan Lloyd could impress.

“It was nice to be out in the sunshine, score a lot of points and put in a good performance,” said Wainwright. “Overall we were very pleased with how we played and how we finished the game.

“Dean spoke to us senior boys in the week and said that the next block of games was going to be about getting some of those younger boys on the fringes a bit more experience and game time.

“The Scarlets game was a perfect example of how that can work well for us, some of them started and some came off the bench to put in great performances.

“It was exciting to be a part of that and to see how they can progress.”

Wainwright made his debut off the bench against Cardiff Blues in October 2017 and made his first start the following weekend against Newcastle in the European Challenge Cup.

He stayed in the squad on the strength of those displays, finishing a breakthrough season with 21 starts and four outings as a replacement.

“How my career developed came from me taking my chance when other people were unfortunately injured and I got given an opportunity,” said Wainwright, who had made 59 Dragons appearances and won 29 caps.

“The Scarlets game was a great example of how boys can put themselves forward and earn more experiences and appearances by playing well.”

06.03.21 Ospreys v Dragons, Guinness PRO14 - Aaron Wainwright of Dragons takes on Keelan Giles of Ospreys.

06.03.21 Ospreys v Dragons, Guinness PRO14 - Aaron Wainwright of Dragons takes on Keelan Giles of Ospreys.

The Dragons finished the Guinness PRO14 strongly and started the Rainbow Cup with a bang, with Wainwright seeing the value in the competition despite the blow of losing fixtures with South African sides.

“We have spoken about it being a catapult into next season as well at it being a chance for the some of the younger boys to show what they can do,” he said.

“They can add some strength and depth across the team, the boys are pushing for positions and to put pressure on those that are starting.

“Against the Scarlets we saw how well some of the younger boys played so things are definitely going in the right direction.”

“We are playing well,” he continued. “Against Northampton we didn’t hold on but there are glimpses of how well we can play.

“We want to build on that in this competition, carrying on how we have been playing and adding little bits of detail.”

The Dragons return to action against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park a week on Sunday before a home clash with the Ospreys.

The remaining rounds are set to be confirmed next week but the original schedule, before the South African blow, had Ryan’s side facing Glasgow and Leinster.