ALL the blood that Nic Cudd spilt for the Dragons, all the bruises that he suffered putting his body on the line at the breakdown, can be traced back to a Saturday morning in front of the television 19 years ago.

It was a young Australia tearaway that caught the eye of a 12-year-old Cudd, who had recently turned from a back to a back row.

The 2001 series against the Wallabies was one that got away for British and Lions, with George Smith largely to blame.

The Aussie was man of the series as Graham Henry's squad were edged out 2-1, making an impression on a teenager in west Wales.

"I remember George Smith just caused havoc," said Cudd. "He was class with his jackaling, stealing ball and just being a nuisance.

"He had such a big impact on the game and that was something that from an early age I wanted to add to my game.

"I've done it ever since and tried to master it, and over the years it seems to have worked out for me."

Smith and Cudd are 5ft 10ins and around the 100kg mark. Both are a nightmare to budge at the breakdown when they scent an opportunity to clamp onto the ball.

Cudd's total disregard for his own safety and his willingness to put his body on the line, even if the game has long been lost, has made him a Dragons great.

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He said: "The injuries and cuts are just part and parcel of the position I play… and maybe I've got paper-thin skin as well!"

"You see tall players turning the ball over all the time, so some people are just suited to doing it better than others.

"It's down to timing more than anything else and that instinct is developed as time goes on."

Yet next season will be the first since 2012/13 that Cudd is not being a menace at the breakdown for the Dragons.

The 31-year-old has been a victim of a combination of the region's back row riches and injury misfortune.

READ MORE: Cudd - I've still got plenty to offer a new club

In February 2019, when Project Reset was hindering negotiations over a fresh contract, Cudd ruptured knee ligaments in training.

It was the second time that he had suffered the fate on the left leg and came just two years after he had torn the ACL on his right.

Cudd made a return to action with Ebbw Vale in their vital Premiership win against RGC at the start of March but coronavirus has deprived him of a Dragons farewell.

He ends his time in the east with a tally of 130 appearances, a number that only Lewis Evans (232) and Jamie Ringer (140) can better as back rowers.

It all started for Cudd in the autumn of 2012 when the Llanelli flanker was invited to train with the region on the Rodney Parade 'cabbage patch' and Newport High School. A trial soon turned into a year-long contract.

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"It mostly down to (defence coach) Rob Appleyard," said Cudd. "I'd known him for a few years, he was a skills coach at the Scarlets academy and coached me a bit with Wales Under-20s and at Llanelli.

"He had tried to sign me before but I had stayed at the Scarlets, then another opportunity came because Darren Waters suffered a big ACL injury and they were short.

"They were looking for a seven and I was with Llanelli, so I went along to training and a few weeks later got offered a contract for a year. Things just went from there.

"Opportunities had been hard to come by at the Scarlets, I had suffered a few injuries and couldn't quite get going.

"The Dragons chance came up and it was great. I just wanted to do all that I could to be a professional rugby player and take that opportunity.

"The more games that I played the more I improved and got comfortable in the environment. I am just thankful that I was there for so many years.

"Rugby is a funny career, players come and go. I have seen that over my eight years at the Dragons.

"There are boys who have come in and done well one year but then the next it hasn't worked out and you never see them again.

"That's why I am thankful it lasted so long, even though it was unfortunate the way it ended. I don't have any regrets."

Cudd is currently weighing up his options for next season, fitting in some training in between 14-month-old son Jac's naps.

Wife Teleri, a cardiac physiotherapist, is pregnant with another son – a blindside to go with the openside? – due in October.

There is no bitterness at his departure from the Dragons, an exit he saw coming, and just looks back fondly.

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"It's a bit strange, and I am sure it will get stranger when training returns," he said. "It had to come to an end at some point and I was just grateful for the eight years I was there at the Dragons.

"I have got some great memories that I will never forget; we haven't always had the best of seasons but we've always had some standout games.

"The main one was the quarter-final at Gloucester and there were also a couple of wins against Cardiff Blues, the one at the Arms Park on Boxing Day (2014) and the European game at Rodney Parade.

"I had been injured in the build-up to that but was fit to be on the bench, came on and scored quite quickly. I don't score load of tries so that was a nice one!

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"I've a lot of good memories through the years and they aren't just the wins. Montpellier away was a great occasion in the European semi-final and I think that we gave a good account of ourselves against a quality side."

Cudd is fit again after a delayed return from the ruptured knee ligaments, with complications meaning he needed a second operation in October.

The outing for the Steelmen has given him confidence that he can still cut it as a pro and now it's a case of playing the waiting game for offers.

He'll watch on while the Dragons continue to be spoilt for choice in the back row.

"When I first came there was Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Lewis Evans," said Cudd.

"Lewis is still there and plays a vital role with his experience.

"It's not far off the strongest back row out there now with Ross Moriarty, Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin, Harri Keddie, Huw Taylor Taine Basham has shown what he can do this season and Lennon Greggains is back fit and is a good prospect."

Fine players  but Cudd has set the standard for commitment, heart and tenacity for whoever gets the seven jersey.