DRAGONS boss Dean Ryan has challenged his Wales contingent to consistently hit the heights and become Test regulars, writes Chris Kirwan.

The Rodney Parade region provided eight players to Wayne Pivac's first international squad for last week's friendly against the Barbarians.

The World Cup trio of hooker Elliot Dee and back row forwards Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright were joined by wing Ashton Hewitt, fly-half Sam Davies, tighthead Leon Brown and back rowers Ollie Griffiths and Taine Basham.

Uncapped Hewitt was a travelling reserve for the Principality Stadium fixture while 20-year-old prospect Basham was released for the Dragons' Guinness PRO14 meeting with Zebre, scoring his seventh try of the season in the heavy defeat.

Davies and Griffiths made their first Wales appearances since the summer of 2017 off the bench while Brown was also a replacement after missing out on Japan.

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"The recent Wales squad was a great opportunity for us to open up some pathways," said Ryan. "What is crucial now is that some of those players need to string some international performances together.

"There is a difference in opening up some pathways, saying this is where we think you can get to, and playing like an international week in, week out.

"That's our challenge, someone has opened the door and said you have the potential to be here (with Wales), now that has to be backed up with performances."

The absence of the Wales eight plus a lengthy injury list featuring locks Cory Hill and Brandon Nansen, prop Ryan Bevington, back rower Lewis Evans, fly-half Josh Lewis, wing Jared Rosser and full-back Jordan Williams hit the Dragons hard last week.

The region endured 39-12 drubbing at the hands of Zebre, becoming the first team to lose to Zebre in 2019.

"I don't see the challenge of the Dragons over a short period of time," said Ryan. "We are a shallow squad and saw against Zebre that we have to use a lot of energy to create more depth.

"Getting more people in international squads, which is what we aspire to do, means we've got to have more depth to fill their positions."

The Wales contingent - minus back row forward Moriarty - are back to boost the Dragons at Worcester in the European Challenge Cup tomorrow.

The team is named at midday with Dee and Wainwright set for first regional appearances of the campaign after being given time off after their exertions in Japan.

The Dragons are top of Pool One courtesy of their bonus-point wins against Castres and Enisei-STM, who meet in Krasnodar today.

They host the Warriors a week on Friday and one win in the double-header will give them a great shot at repeating 2015 and 2016 by qualifying for the knockout stages, either as group winner or one of three best runners-up.