JAMES Benjamin will be brought in from the cold by the Dragons this season with new boss Bernard Jackman declaring the back row forward is the perfect fit for a more expansive game.

The 23-year-old from Rogerstone was a fringe figure in 2016/17, making a solitary appearance off the bench in the European Challenge Cup against Worcester when there were a number of late withdrawals.

With Ollie Griffiths enjoying a breakthrough season and Nic Cudd putting his body on the line in trademark fashion, Benjamin instead became a prominent figure for Wales on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.

It seemed as though he would concentrate on the shortened format ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia but a change of management at Rodney Parade has led to a change of fortune for the mobile back rower.

Jackman has taken the reins and vowed to play attacking rugby, something that plays to the strengths of skilful Benjamin.

He started against Montpellier and Glasgow in pre-season and came off the bench against Exeter to put himself right in the mix for a place in the XV for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 opener against Leinster at Rodney Parade.

“I like ‘Jumbo’ a lot and he has been excellent in pre-season,” said Jackman. “He’s a really good footballer and I had a look at him at 8 against Glasgow because I see Ollie as a 7.

“He had a big game, put down a marker and will be there or thereabouts to start against Leinster.

“Jumbo is too good a player to not give game time to, particularly if you want to play an expansive game. He has the skill set and the footballing ability to play a big role in that.

“We’ve got to work with him to put a bit more power and size but in terms of footballing understanding there is probably not anyone better in the squad.”

Benjamin and blindside James Thomas, another who was on the fringes last year, have made strong cases to be included against the Irish province on Saturday with their summer displays in the absence of Lewis Evans (calf) and Griffiths (extended break after Wales duty).

Jackman will mull over his selection for Leinster when the Dragons return to training this morning and is hopeful that locks Cory Hill (pectoral muscle) and Rynard Landman (concussion), fly-half/centre Gavin Henson (dead leg) and scrum-half Sarel Pretorius (muscle strain) will be fit after sitting out the final friendly.

The Irishman has overseen a challenging pre-season schedule in which his new charges have lost to Montpellier 40-15, Northampton 71-21, Exeter 50-24 and Glasgow 40-23.

Those events have merely served to emphasise what Jackman already knew was a big rebuilding task after the Dragons finished one from bottom last season and failed to win an away game in any competition.

“I know it’s a challenge and I knew it was a team low on confidence and not as organised as it needed to be,” he said.

“I knew we needed to bring in a defence coach and change our attacking shape, get our culture right, get our fitness levels right, improve technically and tactically.

“I knew all that and I would have been more shocked if we were better in pre-season because there is only so much you can do in six weeks.

“It’s a hell of a challenge, I know that, but we will make another step forward against Leinster and week to week we will see little bits of improvement and things we’ve done in training come onto the pitch.

“I know we are on the right track, I’d like to have seen more but I’ve got to be realistic.”