9:32am Saturday 11th January 2014
ROSS Wardle joins forces with his midfield mentor for Newport Gwent Dragons against Bath this afternoon, writes Chris Kirwan.
The 22-year-old is paired with Ashley Smith for the first time in the Amlin Challenge Cup encounter at Rodney Parade (kick-off 2.30pm).
Wardle is enjoying his first full season as a professional and has caught the eye with his power in defence and with ball in hand.
But he is also attempting to add some fine touches to his game, along with the ability to move in a place from his preferred positon of outside centre.
And that's where the presence of Smith helps.
He may be just 26 but the inside centre is sixth in the region's all-time appearances chart with 137 and needs just six more games to leap past Jamie Ringer and Luke Charteris into fourth.
Wardle, who will turn out in Dragons colours for the 21st time, is relishing the opportunity to learn some tricks of the trade off the under-rated Smith.
Wardle said: "Outside centre is more natural to me in defence and in terms of running lines but playing with Ashley has helped me come along as a 12, understanding the role of not just hitting it up but running the game.
"He is a good mentor and after the game I will watch his clips as well as my own and ask him questions in training. Hopefully he can help bring me along and make me a better all-round player.
"His communication skills are better than anyone that I have played with and he is a very quick thinker, he does the little things well and bosses everyone round.
"If I can bring that into my game it will make me a better player.
"In defence I am pretty loud and sure of what I am doing but in attack you can sometimes get lost, thinking about yourself and not considering other players."
Wardle is denied the chance to get some revenge against Bath and England livewire centre Kyle Eastmond.
The pair locked horns in their rugby league days when Celtic Crusaders played St Helens in a reserve clash at Knowsley Road in 2009... with stand-off Eastmond putting in a dazzling performance in a 94-6 demolition job.
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