ANEURIN Owen will profit from the presence of Jamie Roberts at the Dragons over the course of the coming season, although it was working closely with the Wales and Lions legend that meant he had to wait to push for a professional debut.

The region acted swiftly when Roberts tested positive for coronavirus and stood down those that had been in close contact with the powerhouse centre.

That impacted young Owen, whose hopes of featuring on the return of the Guinness PRO14 at the Ospreys were dashed. Like every other Dragon he tested negative but it was too late.

The 19-year-old’s time will come in 2020/21 but the worry for the talented centre, and the rest of the Dragons’ young talent, is a lack of match opportunities.

It’s going to be a hectic season for Dean Ryan’s side with PRO14 and Champions Cup rugby squeezed into a calendar that is already set to be full of Tests.

The director of rugby will have to use his squad wisely, rotating and freshening up in order to keep individuals fit and able to provide a selection headache.

But young lads need to be playing, and there just won’t be enough games.

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This time last year the Dragons were involved in the Celtic Cup. Taine Basham, Lennon Greggains, Ben Fry, Max Williams, Ellis Shipp (pictured above), Josh Reynolds, Dan Babos, Rio Dyer, Owen, Connor Edwards, they all got the chance to experience a stepping stone to senior rugby.

Owen Jenkins was brought in for the tournament from Wales Sevens and made such an impression that he leapt into Ryan’s XV for the PRO14 opener at Munster and has since earned a full-time contract.

There has been much grumbling about the Celtic Cup, mostly from those close to clubs who used to play in the British & Irish Cup, but it is a tournament that has been of great value to the Dragons.

It’s a chance to see promising talent perform at a level up, giving them a glimpse of life as a pro and demanding that they learn from week to week.

Alas, it is a competition that has been shelved in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, denying the region’s prospects valuable minutes.

At least they’ll be able to put lessons learnt on the training pitch in Ystrad Mynach into practice with Newport at Rodney Parade or Ebbw Vale at Eugene Cross Park… ah.

The Premiership won’t be played until November at the earliest but an autumn return seems a little optimistic at this stage.

That leaves the Dragons’ academy talent with plenty of opportunity to train, precious little chance to play.

The pandemic, and all the precautions and logistics that are needed to hold games, makes friendlies with other professional sides hard to organise.

It leaves a glut of players in certain positions and only 23 places to fill on a matchday. Training can be fierce and intense but there’s no substitute for the real thing.

The Dragons don’t have as big a squad as many yet Owen’s situation highlights the challenge.

We have to assume that Nick Tompkins will be away for much of the autumn but that still leaves Jamie Roberts, Jack Dixon, Adam Warren and Connor Edwards as centre options.

Getting a run of games will be tough for the prospect and Ryan can’t even dip him into the senior XV then send him off somewhere to work on aspects. Learning will all have to take place on the training pitch.

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The same applies for Greggains in the back row, Chris Coleman at tighthead, Max Williams at lock, Babos at scrum-half, Dyer on the wing.

Up and coming second row forward Ben Carter was meant to be enjoying a second year with Wales Under-20s alongside getting minutes in the Premiership.

Not only has the highly-rated 19-year-old from Caldicot been denied tournament experience at the World Rugby U20 Championship, which was scrapped this summer, but he’s unlikely to taste competitive action for a good few months.

It will leave rugby manager James Chapron and Ryan scratching their heads about how to give their next crop the best chance of making the grade. They’d no doubt love to consider loans like last season’s deal that saw Arwel Robson and Edwards, who had previously featured for Hartpury, head for Jersey. But the English Championship is still waiting for a start date from the RFU and it won’t be up and running any time soon given the cost of Covid testing and the need for a proper pre-season, with clubs still using the furlough scheme to help them survive.

It’s a problem for the Dragons as the financial impact of the pandemic will leave them, along with other clubs, needing to make tough decisions next summer when contracts are being discussed.

There will be a generation of young players who are cut without feeling they have had a fair crack while others will be promoted to fill the first team squad because they are cheaper, even though they may not quite be ready because they have been denied valuable game time.

A lack of minutes is a real danger for up-and-coming talent in a season that might feature very little of the 2020 part of 2020/21.