Rodney Parade will host one of the biggest games of the past ten years for Dragons Rugby this Saturday, and for hotshot wing Jared Rosser it can’t come soon enough.
Premiership runners-up Wasps are the visitors, but more significant is the competition: the Heineken Champions Cup, from which the Men of Gwent have been absent since the 2010/11 season.
One of the most exciting young backs in the Welsh game, 22-year-old Rosser from Abersychan, in the heart of the Gwent Valley, is taking each milestone as it comes. He marked his 50th appearance for Dragons last weekend with a scorching try in the fourth minute away to Glasgow.
“We were all really looking forward to that game and to get a try that early set things up nicely,” says Rosser. “We went into the match full of confidence after winning away in Treviso, so to get a victory against the Warriors means we’ll take that confidence into the Heineken Champions Cup this Saturday.”
Consecutive wins on the road for the first time since November 2012 is simply another box ticked for Dean Ryan and this young group, with a long-term project at Rodney Parade offering much to be excited about.
“It shows that we’re going in the right direction,” Rosser says. “It’s just a really good place to be. Everyone enjoys going to work and we’re all there to get better. When the results go our way it’s a vindication of that.”
Gwent rugby aficionados were familiar with the imposing figure of a Rosser charging down the field long before Jarred arrived on the Pro14 scene. Lee, his father, was a muscular wing for the likes of Abertillery and Pontypool in the days before gym work was the requirement it is in today’s game.
“Dad was at Abertillery with Kingsley Jones. Kingsley’s a bit of a storyteller and when he came to Dragons he told some tales about their time together there,” laughs Rosser.
“I wouldn’t give Dad the credit of saying he was a bodybuilder, but he did some gym work and was a big old boy playing on the wing. He never really pushed [weightlifting] on me, but growing up him and his friends were all big men so it was probably instilled in me from an early age.”
Not far behind Jared is younger brother Ewan, also at Dragons and, like his older brother, a Wales U20 international. Ewan featured alongside Ioan Lloyd in Wales’ back three during this year’s U20 Six Nations, but has had to make do with precious little game time since then.
Rosser says: “It’s a tough time for boys Ewan’s age because there are no regional U23 or Premiership games. I feel for them because they’re desperate to get stuck into their development and can’t at the moment.
“I said to him during lockdown, and he realised himself, that it’s a good opportunity for him to develop his skills and physically, so when he comes around to playing again he’ll be in a good place.”
Another Dragons player close to Rosser used lockdown to great effect too. Wing Ashton Hewitt, one of the region’s star players, used his profile to take a stand on racist abuse, whilst also promoting the achievements of black people in recent Welsh history. Rosser says he is proud of his friend’s courage and conviction.
“Those of us who have been mates with Ashton for a long time understand he’s passionate about these matters,” says Rosser. “But to see him step into the limelight and argue with the likes of Katie Hopkins has made him a role model for a lot of people now.
“It takes a lot to put yourself out there, and some of the abuse he gets on social media is quite frightening. To deal with that and be a pro rugby player at the peak of his game is a huge credit to him. He’s impressed us all.”
Both Rosser and Hewitt have regularly proved potent threats in the league, and this weekend they have the chance to show that on the grandest club stage of all.
“It’s huge,” says Rosser of the meeting with Wasps. “The boys are buzzing for it. Something like 25% of our squad have played Champions Cup rugby before, so it’s completely new to most of us. Dean spoke about enjoying it as much as we can.”
With so many of their young stars hailing from the Gwent area, it’s no surprise that big things are expected of this generation of Dragons. “I love being at my home region, and the other boys do as well,” Rosser says.
“It shows on the pitch at times that we have that passion to be there. Playing without our fans took a while to get used to, because nothing beats being at Rodney Parade when the crowd is singing and shouting.”
The team has found a new way to offset the frustration at a lack of crowd in Newport. Rosser reveals that stalwart centre Jamie Roberts galvanised the squad midweek. “He told us that Champions Cup rugby is as close as you can get to Test level, and that we just have to relish the opportunity.”