Ashton Hewitt, a man making his mark both on and off the rugby pitch
For Ashton Hewitt, being a professional rugby player is about more than just what he does out on the field.
His exploits there are impressive enough, as he has shown again recently on the wing for the Dragons in the BKT United Rugby Championship.
But the 28-year-old from Newport is also acutely aware of his responsibilities beyond the playing pitch.
He is the chair of the Welsh Rugby Players Association, a role which is particularly important at present amid uncertainty over contracts due to ongoing funding negotiations between the WRU and the four regions.
He also remains committed to combating racism and inequality, refusing to be silenced despite coming in for some horrendous abuse on social media.
His belief is that rugby can play a crucial role in inspiring change and benefiting society as a whole.
As such, he has been delighted to see the Dragons recently receive the Community Impact Award in the inaugural URC Unity Awards. The Gwent region picked up the prize in recognition of the programmes they run encompassing sport, education, inclusion, community outreach, health and well-being, engaging with over 40,000 youngsters on an annual basis.
Giving his thoughts, Hewitt said: “It’s great to see. We are an organisation that sits in the core of the community and we have a responsibility to care about everyone and help everyone we can within that community. It’s massively important.
“The more the likes of the BKT URC show this sort of thing is being valued the better. Rugby can be used in many different ways to help people through things.
“As clubs, we have a responsibility to give back to the communities, to the people who buy tickets, the people who are coming up through grassroots rugby.”
Turning to his role as chair of the WRPA, it’s clear he takes that job very seriously, especially with players looking for some clarity over what is going on behind the scenes.
“It’s my responsibility now to understand all the ins and outs,” he said.
“We have been hearing there is movement in the background and hopefully we are coming to a conclusion regarding the financial agreement. I am just urging all parties to get it sorted as soon as possible so players can focus 100 per cent on rugby.
“It’s boys’ livelihoods and we need as much security and reassurance as possible. These situations are never easy. We are rugby players and a lot of the time we don’t want to get bogged down with detail, we just want to do our job.”
Out of contract
Hewitt, who has been with Dragons RFC for ten years now, making more than 100 appearances, is one of those players who is out of contract. His hope is he will be able to extend his stay.
“I’ve made no secret about how much I love playing for my home region. I’m a Newport boy through and through, I love Rodney Parade and what we have got here. The Dragons are close to my heart.”
It’s been a challenging time for Hewitt over the past couple of seasons, with ruptured knee ligaments followed by ankle damage which required further surgery. But he returned to action last month and has been looking sharp and dangerous with ball in hand.
“I’ve loved being back on the field. It has been a tough couple of years. To come back and then get hit with another injury and get operated on again was pretty hard to take.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t go through a period of feeling sorry for myself. You have those couple of days of frustration and anger. But you have a network of support around you, whether it be coaches, physios, players, family, friends, who all contribute to getting you back to where you were.
“It’s also about having that drive yourself. You always have that end goal in sight. It’s difficult, it’s not easy, but I’m not the only person who has ever had to go through it. You just have to pick yourself back up and go again.
“It’s all behind me now and I’m just trying to hit as good form as I can. I am enjoying it.”
Hewitt has come close to Wales honours in the past, being named in national squads only for injuries to stall his progress, but he hasn’t given up on playing for his country one day.
“It’s always an ambition and as long as I am playing it’s not an ambition that will ever go away. It’s something I believe I am capable of.
“But I have got a job to do here first. I will perform as best I can and whatever happens from there happens.”
That job of his continues on Friday evening when the Vodacom Bulls from Pretoria are the visitors to Rodney Parade for a BKT URC Round 12 clash.
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