OLLIE Griffiths has been challenged to show he can fill Sam Warburton’s boots when he makes his Dragons return against Connacht on Friday.

The 22-year-old from Newbridge will make his first appearance of the season against the Irish province at Rodney Parade (kick-off 7.30pm) after being troubled by a hip injury.

Griffiths is set to start at openside flanker and will be looking to build on a breakthrough 2016/17 in which he swept the board at the Dragons’ end-of-season awards before making his Wales debut with a brief cameo against Tonga.

If he picks up where he left off then the dynamic back row forward can give Warren Gatland food for thought now that Lions skipper Warburton has been ruled out of the autumn with a neck injury, joining Ross Moriarty (back) and Ellis Jenkins (hamstring) on the sidelines.

“Ollie has to perform for us first and foremost, then anything that comes on top of that is great,” said forwards coach Ceri Jones.

“He’d like to press his case having not been given much time in the summer but it was great for him to get on that tour and get his cap, hopefully he can kick on from there.

“Ollie was outstanding last year for us so to have him back in the mix is great. We just want him to put consistent performances in for us, then it’s down to the Welsh selectors to have a look at him.”

Griffiths’ ability to play blindside, openside and number eight gives him a shot of being named in the Wales squad to face Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Former prop Jones believes the Newbridge prospect can make that step up to Test level against the top nations.

“If you look at Ollie as an athlete I think there are not many better than him in Wales,” he said.

“It would be a huge challenge for him taking that step up to international rugby but I feel he is ready for it. I like Ollie a lot as a player and a person.”

The Dragons have been given a double boost for Connacht with South African scrum-half Sarel Pretorius back to feature for the first time this season.

He will start after overcoming a calf problem suffered before the August friendly with Glasgow and his back-up will be 19-year-old Owain Leonard with Charlie Davies (head) and Tavis Knoyle (knee) sidelined.

Knoyle has had knee surgery and is out for a lengthy spell, meaning that Dragons boss Bernard Jackman may look into bringing in another seasoned half-back.

Centre Sam Beard will miss the Connacht clash after suffering a blow to the left shoulder in Edinburgh but his absence is countered by the return of Jack Dixon (groin).

The Dragons triumphed 21-16 when the sides met in Newport last season before Connacht got their revenge in a similarly tight contest at the Sportsground, emerging 14-9 victors.

Connacht, now with Kieran Keane at the helm following Pat Lam’s departure for Bristol, are on their travels for the first time this season.

They suffered a home defeat to Glasgow on opening weekend before responding with a bonus-point victory against the Southern Kings in Galway on Saturday.

l Warburton will undergo surgery after aggravating a long-standing neck injury in training this week and will face up to four months out.

Ospreys ace Justin Tipuric is now likely to wear 7 on his back in the autumn for Wales with Taulupe Faletau at number eight.

Former Dragon Dan Lydiate has not played since suffering a serious knee injury in the win against South Africa last autumn.

Scarlets blindside Aaron Shingler and Cardiff Blues utility back rower Josh Navidi impressed in Wales’ summer Tests against Tonga and Samoa. Wasps openside Thomas Young started the first of those games with Jenkins at 7 in the second.