DEAN Ryan says that former Wales and Lions forward Richard Hibbard is a “safety net” for the Dragons this season after only calling on the veteran hooker once.

The Rodney Parade region host Lyon in the European Challenge Cup on Friday and look set to be without current Wales international Elliot Dee.

The 27-year-old from Newbridge started in the 22-16 defeat to Perpignan last weekend but suffered a head injury when hit high by opposite number Seilala Lam, an offence that controversially only resulted in yellow rather than red for the home hooker.

Dee was replaced by James Benjamin but the converted back rower, who spent the opening months of the season at Cornish Pirates, had a tough time at the lineout at the Stade Aime Giral.

The Dragons are keen to develop the former Wales 7s international in the dark arts after he spent last season learning his new position without the ability to get game time at a lower level due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ryan and his management team have shared the 2 jersey around this season with Dee making four starts (no replacement appearances), Ellis Shipp two (one replacement appearances), on-loan Scarlets hooker Taylor Davies two (three replacement appearances) and Benjamin has featured twice off the bench.

Hibbard was given a one-year contract extension in April after finishing the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 strongly.

However, the 38-year-old has been a fringe figure this season with just one appearance off the bench against the Ospreys on opening weekend.

“Hibbs is well aware of his role here this year,” said director of rugby Ryan. “He's almost like a safety net and we have to get some people past him and (fellow veteran front rower) Aaron Jarvis. That's the challenge that we face.”

South Wales Argus: SWITCH: James Benjamin is now a hooker for the DragonsSWITCH: James Benjamin is now a hooker for the Dragons

Benjamin has been working hard on the training ground and made an impression at the Pirates in the English Championship.

The former flanker is one of the squad’s most talented ball players and Ryan hopes the Dragons reap the rewards of some tough experiences.

“We have got a lot of faith in where we think Jumbo can go,” he said. “There is no point having that faith unless you create opportunities and experiences for him.

“He has been at Cornish Pirates and we are all aware of the player that he is capable of being, so we are building confidence in him.”