'ATHLETE' Leon Brown has given himself a shot at a Six Nations debut thanks to becoming a straight shooter with the Dragons, according to his new boss.

The 23-year-old tighthead is battling with Dillon Lewis, who has recently returned from a hamstring injury, and uncapped Sale front-rower WillGriff John for the 3 jersey in Saturday's tournament opener against Italy in Cardiff.

Brown has responded superbly to the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup to force his way back into the Test reckoning.

The six-times capped prop from Newport was a replacement in the November fixture against the Barbarians at Principality Stadium after making strides at the set piece with the Dragons.

Brown has reaped the rewards of working closely with the region's forwards coach Ceri Jones and former France front rower Olivier Azam.

He was yellow-carded for scrum offences on his last Test outing against Ireland but Wales forwards chief Jonathan Humphreys, who has taken over from Robin McBryde, likes what he has seen so far this season.

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"The Dragons have done a great job with Leon at the set piece," said the former hooker. "We wanted Leon to scrummage straight and he is doing that.

"We are after big, athletic men and he is certainly that – he has got a huge future in front of him.

"(For young props) it's about working on the scrum day in, day out. That's what he has done with a great work ethic, and the work ethic of the Dragons coaches around him, because there has been a massive improvement."

Humphreys, who was appointed by new head coach Wayne Pivac after being on the Scotland and Glasgow management teams, is under pressure to provide a platform.

Wales have spoken about playing a more expansive game but it all starts up front.

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"The non-negotiable for us is that we want our tightheads to scrummage straight and square, and that's hard to do," said Humphreys.

"There is a lot talk about the instability of scrums but the majority of that comes from tightheads that are allowed to go across at the scrum. We don't want that and we have stated that to the referees.

"These boys – Leon, Dillon, WillGriff, Samson Lee just behind them – they are working extremely hard to be able to do that and hopefully that will give us solidity.

"Throughout the regions we are all on the same page about the profile that we want from our tightheads. That's goes through the Under-18s and Under-20s, so hopefully we will see a lot of good props coming through."

Tomas Francis' injury at the World Cup has opened up a spot on the right-hand side of Wales scrum, with Sharks prop John a new rival for ex-Wales Under-20s teammates Brown and Lewis.

"We went up to Sale to watch WillGriff John a few times and I was delighted to see what he does at the set-piece," said Humphreys.

"We went up a couple of weeks later to have a coffee with him and talk about the game.

"There were some areas we wanted him to work on outside the set-piece and he's certainly done that.

"We all know his background as a back-rower and he's worked hard on what he can do outside the scrum. He's a huge man and he wanted to play for Wales.

"He's made those improvements and at 27 he's a great age profile."

Wales name their team to face Italy at 11am on Thursday.

Brown is joined in the Six Nations squad by fellow Dragons forwards Elliot Dee, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty.