CARETAKER boss Ceri Jones is relishing the chance for the Dragons to lock horns with European heavyweights Clermont Auvergne, believing the Challenge Cup finale is the perfect preparation for the Guinness PRO14 run-in.

The Rodney Parade region end their European campaign by welcoming the Top 14 leaders to Newport (kick-off 8pm).

The Frenchmen have travelled with a formidable XV, even in the absence of their Six Nations contingent, and will start as hot favourites to make it perfect six bonus-point wins in Pool One.

Clermont enjoyed a 49-24 win when the sides met at the Stade Marcel Michelin in December – Jones' first game in charge after the sacking of Bernard Jackman – but the Dragons took encouragement from a battling display.

They trailed by just 11 points in the final quarter and their spirited performance built confidence for festive clashes with Welsh rivals when denied a draw with the last kick at Cardiff Blues and when they ended their four-year derby drought by beating the Ospreys.

Jones wants to pose more problems for a Clermont side that wouldn't look out of place in the Champions Cup ahead of the return to league action against Munster a week on Saturday.

"It's a massive challenge," said the former prop. "They are right up there in the French league and they could put three teams out that are all full of superstars, so we are very aware of the challenge that we are facing.

"We are very excited by that challenge, we want to get them to Rodney Parade and we want to build on the performances of the last month and really test ourselves against quality opposition. Hopefully that is going to prep us going into our next league games.

"It's been a very busy month with all those derbies, Clermont before that and Leinster before that. They were all big games.

"This is another huge challenge. They are a big, powerful squad and the boys are excited for the game as I am.

"Clermont have attacking threat throughout their side and some really big men, so we are going to have to be right on our game."


Wales internationals Aaron Wainwright and Hallam Amos, at openside and left wing, will hope to press their claims for starts in Paris in their final appearances before leaving for Six Nations duty.

READ MORE: Vieira protege Wainwright aims to be Six Nations star in Paris

Their fellow Test squad members Cory Hill (shoulder), Elliot Dee (ankle), Ross Moriarty (concussion) and Leon Brown (thumb) are sidelined, although Moriarty and Brown could be released by Warren Gatland for game time against Munster.

Jones makes 10 changes to the side that hammered Timisoara Saracens 59-3 last week with a new back row of Wainwright, Harri Keddie and Ollie Griffiths, who made a typically energetic return from a month-long knee injury off the bench against the Romanians.

The Dragons are boosted by the returns of props Brok Harris and Lloyd Fairbrother with the former making his 100th appearance on his comeback from a knee injury and the latter back at tighthead after his three-week suspension for a red card at Cardiff Blues.

Amos switches from outside centre to the left wing and is joined in the back three by Jared Rosser and full-back Zane Kirchner.

Jarryd Sage and Adam Warren return in midfield and Rhodri Williams is back at 9 to partner Jason Tovey, who needs five points for 1,000 in Dragons colours.

Dragons: Z Kirchner, J Rosser, A Warren, J Sage, H Amos, J Tovey, R Williams, B Harris, R Hibbard (captain), L Fairbrother, J Davies, M Screech, H Keddie, A Wainwright, O Griffiths. Replacements: R Lawrence, D Suter, C Coleman, H Taylor, J Benjamin, R Davies, J Lewis, J Williams.