RYAN Woodman has been backed to keep making rapid progress with the Dragons a year after the Wales Under-20s captain made his senior debut.

The 19-year-old from Caldicot is set to be involved in the Saturday’s European Challenge Cup opener against Oyonnax at Rodney Parade (kick-off 8pm).

The lock/blindside made his club debut with a brief but impressive cameo against Pau last December in the tournament and went on to make another outing as a replacement at Leinster in the United Rugby Championship.

Woodman has continued to make progress in the current campaign with a first start at Munster, where he scored a try, and appearances against Leinster, the Ospreys and Lions.

The Dragons have endured a tough start to the season but Woodman, who has the talent but also the maturity to step up early, has provided some positives to the delight of his former Wales Under-20s head coach.

South Wales Argus: Former Wales U20s head coach Mark Jones, now with the OspreysFormer Wales U20s head coach Mark Jones, now with the Ospreys (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“I am pleased all these young fellas are getting a chance, although we’d like to surround them with a bit more experience,” said Mark Jones, who left his role with the national set-up to become Ospreys defence coach after the World Rugby U20 Championship.

“If a Gary Teichmann type figure was playing at Rodney Parade, or a Taulupe Faletau, then they would be a huge influence on someone like Ryan.

“Because of the budgets and squad depths, these players are getting invaluable opportunities and it will speed up the development for them.

“They will learn so much along the way and the national team and the regions should be in a stronger place in four or five years as a result of this period.”

Woodman has played for Wales Under-20s for two seasons and remains eligible for the Six Nations and next year’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

He was fielded as a blindside by Jones, has operated there for the Dragons but has featured at lock for Newport RFC in the Premiership.

Woodman was given an extended break from on-field training by the Dragons to recover from his Wales Under-20s exertions and to also bulk up for the demands of professional rugby.

South Wales Argus: Ryan Woodman training with the DragonsRyan Woodman training with the Dragons (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“Ryan has a big frame and is still a young man,” said Jones. “Fast forward five years and he will be a very big player.

“Ryan is athletic with that as well, particularly at the lineout, while his ball-carrying is decent and he has a good skill set.

“One question for him will be whether he ends up at six or is a lock because the game is getting faster and locks are getting more athletic. He is someone who could do both jobs.”

Woodman and the Dragons will aim to get their Challenge Cup campaign off to a winning start against an Oyonnax side who will prioritise Top 14 survival.

Dai Flanagan’s side travel to Pau a week on Saturday then head to Zebre Parma in January before hosting the Sharks to finish the group stages.

Four of the six-team pool that also features the Cheetahs will progress to the last 16, meaning the Dragons could do with a win on Saturday, and ideally a bonus point.