CORONAVIRUS forced the Dragons to rip up their plans for the Champions Cup but boss Dean Ryan has challenged his young squad to learn from a chastening experience in Europe's top tier.

The Dragons headed to Bordeaux-Begles without a raft of senior players because of the virus and injuries, leading to 20-year-olds Evan Lloyd and Aneurin Owen making their debuts off the bench at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Ryan fielded a side without Wales internationals Leon Brown, Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty, Ollie Griffiths, Sam Davies, Jonah Holmes, summer signings Jamie Roberts and Greg Bateman and senior figures Harri Keddie, Ashton Hewitt and Matthew Screech.

The Dragons subsequently went down to a 47-8 loss in Bordeaux and paid the price for three swift tries either side of half-time that took the score from 12-3 to 33-3.

This was not how they hoped to return to Europe's premier tournament after a decade in the Challenge Cup.

"These are challenging circumstances for everyone at the moment. We never planned for what happened in the last two weeks," said the director of rugby, who had to make six late changes for the 24-8 loss to Wasps because of positive Covid tests.

"Circumstances forced us to experience this game in a different way to how we would have planned for it. But we wanted to play and we wanted to get it on.

South Wales Argus: DIRECT: Jack Dixon carries hard for the DragonsDIRECT: Jack Dixon carries hard for the Dragons

"This was the highest level some of these guys had played at and I thought for the first 30-40 minutes it was a really great, gutsy effort. Two players hadn't played senior professional rugby before.

"To do that against Bordeaux is quite a significant ask, especially for one of them at number 10 (Lloyd) from 30 minutes.

"There were a few detailed things that didn't go right, but given the last couple of weeks and the number of changes we've had that was to be expected."

The Dragons featured 19-year-old lock Ben Carter, novices Lloyd and Owen, 20-year-old wing Rio Dyer and 21-year-old flanker Taine Basham.

"We were just too loose after half-time and they were too good," added Ryan. "We have talked all along about enjoying this experience and learning from it, but for 20 minutes it was a stark lesson in where we need to be better if we want to stay at this level.

"It is a big challenge for young players like Rio Dyer and Ben Carter to be playing against some of the players who were out there. We would definitely have wanted to get the 20 minutes in the middle under better control.

"If we had done that there might have been a better reflection of the game but that's what happens when you play teams that are this good."

The Dragons entertain Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day before facing the Scarlets and Ospreys.