WALES and Lions number eight Taulupe Faletau will start Newport Gwent Dragons’ Guinness Pro12 opener against Connacht on the bench.

The 23-year-old did not feature in any of the region’s three pre-season victories against Bristol, Lydney and Northampton.

Faletau has not played since Wales’ heartbreaking second Test defeat to South Africa in Nelspruit in June and will work his way towards full fitness with a cameo in Galway.

Andy Powell is set to make his debut for the region at number eight after a man-of-the-match performance against the Saints.

“Toby plays a lot of high-quality rugby and we have to look after him throughout the year so there’s no harm in having a couple of appearances off the bench,” said director of rugby Lyn Jones.

The Dragons will pair teenagers Jack Dixon and Tyler Morgan in midfield after Pat Leach (knee) joined Ashley Smith (foot) and Ross Wardle (knee) on the injury list.

“The one thing I’ve learnt over the years as coach is not to be afraid to give young guys a chance because you could be surprised by how well they can play,” said Jones.

“They are excellent players and they complement each other. These fellas have rosy futures and I am very confident that they can both deliver against Connacht away.”

Morgan and Dixon are backed up by 17-year-old centre Barney Nightingale and Jones has been impressed after giving the Newport High School student from Chepstow run outs in all three pre-season games.

“Young players have no fear, they just play what is in front of them,” he said. “You are looking for people with instinct, desire, game understanding and the Barney is ticking the boxes at the moment.

“He did exceptionally well against Bristol and Northampton after coming on. I could have moved Aled Brew in (from the wing) but I am not going to do that, I’m going to back this young fella.”

Dragons squad: L Byrne, G R Jones, A Brew, M Pewtner, A Hewitt, T Prydie, T Morgan, B Nightingale, J Dixon, J Tovey, A O’Brien, D Jones, J Evans, R Rees, B Stankovich, O Evans, E Dee, R Thomas, H Gustafson, D Way, D Young, L Fairbrother, I Gough, C Hill, R Landman, A Coombs, N Cudd, L Evans, A Powell, T Faletau.