DRAGONS boss Dean Ryan says the prospect of mixing it with Europe's elite in the Champions Cup for the first time in 2011 is making "eyes light up".

The Rodney Parade region are poised to play in the top tier in 2020/21 with Euro bosses set to rubber-stamp a one-off, expanded tournament.

The coronavirus pandemic is set to lead to a 24-team Champions Cup played over eight weekends rather than nine and featuring eight teams from the Guinness PRO14, England's Premiership and France's Top 14.

The Dragons are fifth in their league conference but will profit from the Cheetahs, from South Africa, not playing in European competition.

The region were last with the big boys in 2011 when they were whitewashed by Toulouse, Wasps and Glasgow and Ryan is braced for a stern challenge.

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"Champions Cup is on the one hand really daunting but on the other really exciting. Every person who works in sport wants to be involved at the top and our players aren't any different," said the director of rugby.

"It doesn't mean our resources won't be challenged or that the match-ups won't be interesting, but we can't help but get excited.

"We're delighted to be there irrespective of what the challenge is. We're over the moon to play against some of the best sides in Europe.

"When you speak to a player at the Dragons about the Champions Cup their eyes light up. We'll speak about the scale of the challenge later.

"The PRO14 is incredibly difficult and you play against some of the best sides in Europe there. We've never been daunted by that and taken the approach of how we can enjoy it and get better.

"The Champions Cup will be exactly the same, albeit getting around some of the more top sides in Europe and seeing what that looks like."

The Dragons return to training on Wednesday to prepare for the planned conclusion of the PRO14 at the end of August.

They will travel to the Ospreys and then host the Scarlets behind closed doors with those derbies followed by their rearranged European Challenge Cup quarter-final at Bristol.

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The Bears have had a summer of change with plenty of departures and arrivals headed by Lions prop Kyle Sinckler, Fijian superstar back Semi Radradra (pictured above) and on-loan Saracens pair Ben Earl and Max Malins.

The Dragons have also added quality to their backs in the shape of Wales wing/full-back Jonah Holmes, who played in the Challenge Cup for Leicester, and centre Nick Tompkins, who has signed on a year-long loan from Sarries.

"We believe he'll be available for us for Europe," said Ryan about Tompkins. "I haven't seen anything official as to how it will look.

"It's not just Nick. Contractually there are dynamics around people moving. We're working on the basis everyone contracted from July 1 will be available for the game."

Tompkins and Holmes are already Dragons while the confirmation of Welsh-qualified lock Joe Maksymiw's move from Connacht is imminent.

The new boys will meet their new teammates over the coming weeks, albeit the build-up to large groups in Ystrad Mynach will be steady.

"We're very much following both WRU and government guidelines in terms of how we return to training," said Ryan.

"We're not back until Wednesday in a small group and it's small steps. There is an August 22 return to competition and things need to run smoothly to give us the best chance of doing that.

"That's dependent on wider issues. At the moment as a sport we're taking small steps and we're looking at how we can train in small groups from being isolated at home.

"It's a difficult period and there is an awful lot of organisation to do to keep people safe."