HARD-WORKING Jacob Botica has been praised for gluing together the Dragons attack as Dean Ryan mulls over giving the fly-half a first professional start as a makeshift full-back in Saturday's crunch European Challenge Cup encounter with Castres.

The Rodney Parade region head to the 2018 French champions (kick-off 2pm) knowing that victory would secure Pool One top spot to earn a place in the quarter-finals.

Even leaving the Stade Pierre-Fabre with a consolation bonus would give the Dragons a great chance of making the last eight, be it as group winners or one of three best runners-up.

However, the hopes of upsetting the odds against a Castres side that haven't lost a home European game since December 2015 are hindered by a lengthy injury list in the back three.

Owen Jenkins has undergone an operation on his ankle that is set to sideline him until mid-February, Jordan Williams is out for the season after rupturing knee ligaments and Dafydd Howells faces a lengthy lay-off with an elbow injury.

Ashton Hewitt was a late withdrawal against the Ospreys on Saturday, leading to a late call-up for Wales Sevens international Rio Dyer, and Will Talbot-Davies was forced off in the second half clutching his right wrist.

That led to Botica deputising at full-back and the 26-year-old, who had endured a tough time since heading south from RGC 1404, earned praise from his boss after the stunning late comeback victory.

South Wales Argus:

"Jacob really gets our game," said director of rugby Ryan. "Covering for Sam Davies can be a pretty tough position, because he is playing so well.

"But Jacob has been outstanding – there are not many people who work as hard as he does every day, knowing that probably he is slightly behind the other bloke.

"I am really pleased because when he comes on he sort of glues our game together rather than being one of the standout players.

"He just becomes really good glue and some of the attacking bits at the end against the Ospreys were because of Jacob's ambition."

South Wales Argus:

Botica arrived from RGC in the summer of 2018 as a fly-half but failed to make a single appearance in his first season.

The playmaker, aided by Josh Lewis' serious knee injury in pre-season, has enjoyed seven substitute outings under Ryan and has slotted into the back three because of others' misfortune.

With Davies impressing at 10, Botica is the leading candidate to start at 15 in France.

Ryan said: "His work under the high balls was alright and his kicking game we know is already, so if he can glue our attacking game together then we will see, because we are pretty bare in the cupboard.

"Jacob is in the 23 all the time and that's credit to him. Coming from RGC is tough and his first year wasn't great but I just really like a lad who wants to work every day to get that chance."

The Dragons will see if Hewitt recovers from his calf niggle but if he doesn't then Dyer could keep his place after impressing on his PRO14 debut.

The 20-year-old from Newport made his first appearance since March 2018, scored his first senior try to level the scores late on and was named as official man of the match.

South Wales Argus:

"I just said to him, 'I've got a feeling you're going to be a superstar, I can see two or three tries in you," said Ryan.

"He had been training for Ashton across the week but not necessarily in the belief that he was going to play.

"Rio probably knew 24 hours before (the game that he was going to play), but he is full of that confidence that young men have.

"We've just got to keep working with him, because we always knew that going forward (with the ball) he is outstanding.

"They came after him a bit and he did a really good job to just hold his own, stay in the contest and wait for his chance. He did that really well.

"We also recognise that he is a young man and he also has lots of things to work on."