CERI Jones says dropping back down to being Dragons forwards coach after missing out on the top job has put a smile on his face as he relishes the task of developing the region's next Wales stars.

The former prop was caretaker boss in the second half of last season after the sacking of Bernard Jackman.

The 42-year-old from Usk led the Dragons to morale-boosting derby wins against the Ospreys and the Scarlets and threw his hat in the ring to be permanent head coach.

However, chairman David Buttress instead opted for Dean Ryan as director of rugby with Jones, who has a year left on his contract, returning to being in charge of the pack.

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"It's my bread and butter," said the twice-capped Wales prop. "I am back as forwards coach, enjoying it and have a smile on my face.

"I've always enjoyed working with the pack and I am loving it. Developing these young players to make them as good as they possibly can be is something that I hugely enjoy.

"The development over the last couple of years with the internationals that we have brought through has been fantastic – Cory Hill, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Ollie Griffiths, Aaron Wainwright.

"It's been really enjoyable to see those guys go on and flourish. To see how well they are doing at an international level makes me hugely proud."

Jones has been joined in offering words of wisdom by an old sparring partner after Olivier Azam was invited by Ryan to help out the management team.

Rather than being threatened by the presence of the former France and Gloucester front rower, Jones has welcomed extra input.

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"Olivier can look at things from a slightly different perspective, he is excellent," said Jones. "It's a different voice and he can come in with a few different methods.

"Having as many voices and picking up new ideas is a massive part of coaching. Any advantage you can gain from others' knowledge is of huge benefit."

The Dragons' pack will be put under pressure at Rodney Parade this weekend in their European Challenge Cup opener against a heavy Castres pack.

The region have enjoyed wins against Bordeaux-Begles, Brive, Pau, Castres and Stade Francais in Newport in recent seasons.

Improving their Guinness PRO14 record is vital for Ryan in his first campaign but repeating the 2015 and 2016 feats of reaching the knockout stages would provide a welcome boost.

"The Challenge Cup is really important for us, in front of our own crowd against a big French team it should be a good occasion," said Jones, with the Dragons also facing Worcester and Russian side Enisei-STM in the group stages.

"We've got a proud record in this competition and really look forward to it. It's a different challenge and I've always liked coaching and playing French opposition because they bring something different to the game."