I’VE done 15 pre-seasons at the Dragons but have experienced nothing like the past week or so.

We’re back in Ystrad Mynach to work towards the return of the Guinness PRO14 on August 22 and have had to get used to a new way of doing things.

It’s been surreal and I have been amazing to see how professional things have been – with so many considerations and precautions taken I can only imagine how things would have been done a few seasons ago.

The management made the facility available for players to go if they wanted to train as safely as possible, turning it into what seems a half hospital with hazmat suits, thermometer guns and testing tents all in place for us.

It was optional initially and I felt happy with the set-up in my carport at home that I’ve previously mentioned, but other boys might not have been as lucky or might have felt they needed the social side of training alongside teammates.

But the clock is ticking towards those two derbies and we have to step things up with stage one of the return.

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Before heading to the training ground we have to complete online forms and then there is a temperature check when we pull up in our car, we then get the go-ahead to park up in a space, wash our hands then clock in with fobs.

Normally we’d have the whole building and would meet up with teammates but now, working in small groups, we can only enter a cordoned-off section in the gym with our own little areas that we can’t leave.

Meeting several new staff has been a breath of fresh air but, once again, not quite the usual introductions with a handshake-. A distant high five has to suffice for now.

I never played against Dan Baugh but can remember the days of this crazy Canadian running around for Cardiff and smashing people with his socks rolled down and collar tucked in.

Now he’s part of our strength and conditioning team and it’s been an interesting introduction, with him only able to speak to you from a distance yet still able to almost make you cry with some of the fitness drills that have been started to ‘ease us back in’.

Small things like not having someone there to spot you in sessions is something that we are all having to overcome, resulting in there still being a limit to how far you can push yourself with the only ‘safety net’ being the squat rack bars as back-up.

These are just the little problems that we face but we’re still working hard. I’m probably not known for my lower body strength and that’s been highlighted even more since going back, my legs feeling like jelly after I slightly neglected them during lockdown training.

One of the big concerns for a few of us older boys is actually the absence of physio treatment; I had a slightly tight calf from road-running while training solo and unfortunately a massage is not available.

For a lot of players, the idea of not being able to look after those little niggles is a worry. Self-maintenance has always been important with stretching and foam-rolling but nothing can quite replace treatment or hands-on therapy.

From the gym we then venture out on to the pitch where there are multiple sections of the pitch that have been laid out with cones, bands and balls, all waiting for us in disinfectant buckets.

When it comes to the rugby training, it’s been a good to meet up with our new coaches Mefin Davies and Gordon Ross.

I’ve heard plenty of good things about forwards coach Mefin, who I’ll be working with closely, from former Dragons lock Rob Sidoli who always said he was a true gent. I’ve also now seen that he’s enthusiastic and sharp operator.

The coaches’ aim for now is to implement the fundamentals that they will focus on going forward.

For example, defence coach Simon Cross isn’t able to do contact training with us yet but can work on basic principles and things like footwork and reload.

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The last bit of the two-hour sessions is the dreaded fitness.

I remember the sessions of old on the Merthyr Mawr dunes every week, Castell Coch hill running and Pontypool steps.

These are not so regular now but the sense of dread is still there as I’ve got older, I’m no longer towards the front anymore and that’s something that I’ve had to accept.

When it comes to games I can run all day – I’m like a dog happy to chase after the ball – but running up and down in straight lines can be mind-numbing. I just don’t find it as enjoyable as the anaerobic games, which helps me take my mind off the troublesome calf!

Old age does slightly creep up and children of the 1980s are a rarer sight these days!

I remember turning 18 while training at Cwmbran Stadium with some nice introductions to the game with Jamie Ringer and Ben Flower in contact sessions in the day and then an academy night out after.

Those days do seem a distant memory now. It’s all fun and games, until the sessions become less fun and there are tougher games!

The grades return has been vital after such a long period off. One player who is in my working group is Huw Taylor, and he seems to have benefited from a brilliant training set-up during the lockdown.

His partner is Kelly Smith, the England winger, who I’m sure has been giving him sprint drills to do – I am sure I saw here leaving Huw trailing in one Instagram video.

When we’re done on the training pitch it’s no longer a case of heading back inside for food. It’s still being provided by Gaffa’s, and is very much needed after tough sessions, but we’ve got to eat them in our cars from little lunchboxes.

It’s a case of do your training, get out. There’s no loitering and that’s how it will be for a few weeks, and I am happy with that for now.

They talk about having a safe return to train and it almost seems OTT, but it’s good for all the boys to be back.

Even though you’ll never be able to eliminate all aspects of the dreaded virus, it seems that everything has been taken into consideration to avoid spread and protect the players.

It’s not an ideal situation but we have two derby games and then the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bristol, then we don’t know what is to come or how long we will have to wait to get going again.

It’s just been good to put the boots back on, even if they are my old ones from a while back because I have two pair in my locker that is in the main building, which is shut off. Times are hard these days!

Conversations about pay are still ongoing between the Welsh Rugby Players Association and the Welsh Rugby Union about getting a fair solution to help the welsh game.

Time is ticking and every day there is more concern about not getting things done in time for the July payroll.

We’ve put several solutions but things are moving very slowly and there is still some way to go. We all hope that there can be some sort of compromise.

I think this has highlighted some issues in the way that things have operated for a few years now.

We all know that rugby isn’t a sustainable business unless you are the likes of Exeter or Munster with 15,000 every week and multi-million pound sponsors. It’s a tough industry that rarely makes profits, with money having to be invested on players, coaches and facilities.

The CVC investment in the Guinness PRO14 has now gone from being a bonus to being a lifeline.

Like professional football, the TV revenue becomes even more important with that being the only opportunity to watch sport.

The whole point of a collective bargaining agreement is to get a fair balance, and when that happens the game will be in a better place.

Times are tough for all and the emphasis of these discussions is to make it fair so that when things do go back to normal - and they will- no one is out of business or no one has severely lost out.

It’s not just the professional game that I’m concerned about too. I know full well from my involvement with Newport High School Old Boys that it’s not just those at the top end that has taken a financial hit.

We’ve had a horrendous time of it with the flooding in February and now the suspension of rugby, which might mean not playing again in 2020.

Communities rely on their local teams and fingers crossed clubs will make it through these tough and challenging times.

We have plenty of things in place ready for a return but people are still worried about the safety of their family or breaking the law.

Hopefully the Dragons can be an inspiration so that they can get back for the sake of club finances and their community.