BACKS coach Barry Maddocks believes free-flowing Bristol will bring the best out of the Dragons in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.

The Rodney Parade region secured a place in the last eight of the competition with victory against Enisei-STM on Friday night, heading into the knockout stages as one of the best runners-up behind Pool One winners Castres.

Bristol had already qualified for the last eight as group winner and drew at Zebre, with those dropped points meaning that the Dragons will head to the West Country rather than France.

The date for the tie is yet to be confirmed but it looks unlikely to be Saturday, April 4 as Bristol City are currently pencilled in to entertain Cardiff in a Championship football clash on that day. That leaves slots on Friday evening or Sunday.

The winners in the West Country will face either Bordeaux-Begles or Edinburgh, with the Dragons unable to earn home advantage in the semi-finals.

The Dragons will head to a packed Ashton Gate with a perfect record in the quarter-finals after beating Brive in 2007, Cardiff Blues in 2015 and Gloucester in 2016 but will be huge underdogs.

The Bears are fifth in the Gallagher Premiership and have impressed with their daring approach under former Connacht boss Pat Lam, a former back row colleague of Dragons director of rugby Dean Ryan at Newcastle.

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"It will be a tough challenge, they are doing really well in the Gallagher Premiership and are playing with a lot of confidence," said backs coach Maddocks.

"Their style of play is pretty open but I think that is a good thing because for us to play a team that wants to play (expansively) as well helps our game because the boys are happy to be in that zone.

"All of the quarter-final games would have been tough with different slants to them, but a packed house at Bristol will be great for the boys."

The clash will lead to a return to Bristol for Dragons scrum-half Rhodri Williams, although his fellow former Bears Jordan Williams and Ryan Bevington will miss out through long-term injuries.

The hosts could field wing Ryan Edwards, from Newport, or former Ebbw Vale speedster Toby Fricker, who has impressed since earning a full-time deal at the end of last season.

Ryan will also be heading back to Bristol, albeit it's a much different club to the one where the former England forward finished his career and cut his coaching teeth.

The director of rugby will hope to have a few more selection headaches in the back three by the times the quarters come around.

The Dragons don't take to the field until hosting Benetton in the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday, February 15.

That gives time to attend to the walking wounded after three more injuries were suffered in the backs against Enisei-STM.

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Wing Jared Rosser came off at half-time with an eye injury, centre Tyler Morgan pulled a muscle scoring the bonus-point try and wing Rio Dyer suffered a shoulder injury.

The Dragons are already without Ashton Hewitt (calf), Jordan Williams (knee), Will Talbot-Davies (wrist), Owen Jenkins (ankle) and Dafydd Howells (elbow) out wide.

"It's getting ludicrous in the back three," said Ryan. "When you have such a thin squad you end up playing lots of young men.

"They look great but it's early in their career to play at this level and there is high risk of injury, which is playing out at the moment. We are thin on the ground.

"I am not used to having a three-week spell off in the middle of a season but I am pretty pleased we've got it now, that's for sure."