FORMER Wales captain Ryan Jones has hailed the remarkable rise of Aaron Wainwright – and believes the Dragons flanker can be a World Cup starter.

The 21-year-old from Newport is almost certain to be named in Warren Gatland's 31-strong squad for Japan on Sunday afternoon.

That will cap a remarkable rise for the flanker who only took up rugby at the age of 17 at Whiteheads RFC before swiftly being spotted and developed by the Dragons academy.

Wainwright had previously been a midfielder with Cardiff City and Newport County but is now following the same path as one of his Bassaleg School predecessors.

Ryan Jones had been a teenage goalkeeper on the books of Bristol City before turning to rugby with his friends at Risca, catching the eye of Newport RFC and then going on to become an Ospreys great.

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"He's a fantastic footballer. What's great is he's not a product of the system," said lock/back row forward Jones, who won 75 caps, captained his country 33 times and played three Tests for the Lions on the 2005 tour to New Zealand.

"He's not dissimilar to me as I also came to rugby late and had played football. It shows great sportsmen can make great rugby players.

"You can see that in the way he reads the game and with his athleticism. He's unbelievably competitive – I'm really excited by him and I thought he was excellent in the first two warm-up games against England."

Wainwright started at blindside in the loss at Twickenham and win at Principality Stadium but is likely to drop out of the XV for Saturday's clash with Ireland in Cardiff as Gatland gives others a last chance to impress.

The Dragons flanker has featured in 10 of Wales' 12 Tests since he made his debut in Argentina last June and was an ever-present in the Six Nations.

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Wainwright added energy from the bench in the Grand Slam but is now putting pressure on the starting trio of Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty.

"Unfortunately we've seen Taulupe Faletau ruled out, but that paves the way for someone like Aaron to go on and grasp it," said Jones, who was speaking at Cardiff Castle to promote the Guinness PRO14 final being in the city next year.

"It will be interesting to see the back-row balance, but he's shown great glimpses. I definitely think he'll be in consideration.

"We've certainly seen him put his hand up and he'll be in the frame for a starting berth."