Castle set for debut

10:40am Monday 11th January 2010
By Robin Davey »

NEW Zealander Ben Castle is poised to make his competitive debut for Newport Gwent Dragons at long last after being out for the whole season.
Castle arrived at Rodney Parade last summer via French team Toulon and Australian Super 14 side Western Force as the replacement for Wales tighthead prop Rhys Thomas, who joined the Scarlets, though ironically he has also been out for months with a damaged toe.
But the first time Castle stepped on to the field for the Dragons in a pre-season friendly at Coventry last August he tore a bicep and has been sidelined ever since.
He might have been back last month, but overdid things during training in his anxiety to make a start with his new team and had to rest for a further fortnight.
But Castle, who celebrates his 30th birthday on Wednesday, is now in full training and Dragons head coach Paul Turner says his return is imminent.
“If he continues to train well he could be involved in our Heineken Cup 22 this month,” he said, though that could be the Gloucester return at Rodney Parade a week on Sunday rather than Friday night’s scheduled match against Glasgow at Firhill.
If the weather problems remain all week it is unlikely a Heineken Cup tie would be postponed as readily as a league fixture.
The regulations are more stringent and nearby Murrayfield, where there is undersoil heating, is available as Edinburgh travel to Ulster for their Heineken Cup tie at the weekend.
A similar situation arose last month when the Rodney Parade pitch was unfit for the Biarritz return, and the match was switched to Parc y Scarlets where there is undersoil heating.
Alternative venues always have to be declared for European matches.
While Castle could return this month, there is little, if any, chance of fellow prop Nigel Hall making it after he had surgery on a damaged shoulder following the first Gloucester game on October 9.
Next month’s Magners League game against Ulster at Ravenhill is his target for a comeback.
Castle would be able to play in the Heineken Cup as he was named in the original Dragons’ European squad, though Peter Bracken, who became the one late addition allowed under competition rules, would almost certainly have to return to Ireland.
He was brought in to ease the Dragons’ critical situation at prop, with Castle, Hall, Ali McKenzie and Phil Price all on the injured list, but once Castle is back Bracken is due to go back to Ireland where he was playing amateur rugby for Galwegians after previously playing for Wasps and Bristol.
Castle is not the only Dragons ‘newcomer’ who could finally start soon – centre Pat Leach is also set for his debut.
A North Walian who joined last August, also because of an injury crisis, he damaged knee ligaments almost immediately during the summer training camp in August.
He has been out ever since as well, but has been taking a full part in training at the indoor barn at the Vale of Glamorgan for the past few weeks.
He has played for the English Counties, and at 6ft 2in the 24-year-old is bigger than the other Dragons centres. He would have played for a Gwent team in the Welsh Premiership this month had it not been for the bad weather.
Scrum-halves Wayne Evans and Alex Walker, both injured during the first Biarritz game, are making progress and could come into the reckoning for the Gloucester match.
Back-row forward Joe Bearman, out with an adductor muscle injury, is to see another specialist this week in an effort to get to the bottom of a problem that is threatening to keep him out for the rest of the season.