DRAGONS boss Dean Ryan hopes beating the side he wants to mirror can spark a challenge for Champions Cup qualification.

The Rodney Parade side entertain Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 this evening (kick-off 7.35pm), the first of seven remaining fixtures.

The Dragons have home advantage on five occasions but have little margin for error if they are to reel in the third-placed Ospreys in Conference A.

They have a 13-point lead but have played two games more, giving Ryan's men a sniff of returning to the Champions Cup in 2021/22.

They played in Europe's top tier for the first time in a decade in December and ending a 16-game winless streak against Irish provinces, a run going back to the 2017 win against Connacht, would provide hope.

That will be no easy task against a battling side who sit second in Conference B and certainly have Ryan's respect.

"Connacht are a really underrated side," he said. "They have a couple of guys who are quite influential that go off with Ireland but they are pretty robust throughout the season," said the director of rugby.

"They are built for being competitive week in, week out - I see a lot of things that I want us to be.

"They have been used to being that 'other' Irish side for some time and like to challenge that perception.

"I do enjoy watching them. They have a lot of players that don't necessarily hit the radar of international level and they make them better, which is a good test of an environment."

The Dragons haven't played since losing to the Ospreys at the start of January but have a run of seven games in seven weeks.

The PRO14 finishes during the Six Nations and Ryan has challenged his team to hit the standards set when they won back-to-back games at Benetton and Glasgow during the autumn.

"This group has always got better when playing week in, week out," said the boss.

"Last season was ended last year at a time when we were getting some momentum and better, then we were in a really good space post-Glasgow then Covid hit us.

"We are really looking forward to this seven-game run to get better. If we get back to the levels we were performing at then we can challenge ourselves to get better results.

"This week is the start of it. We were as robust and competitive as I have seen us after the Benetton and Glasgow games.

"We were looking in control of games rather than hanging on and hoping something would happen.

"That's where we need to get back to and we need to do it quickly so that we can maintain being competitive in our conference."

The Dragons will leapfrog Glasgow into fourth with victory.