THE Dragons’ starters from the derby win against the Scarlets deserve to keep their spots for the bid for the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, says boss Dai Flanagan.

The Rodney Parade club have returned to training after their New Year’s Day triumph against their rivals from Llanelli.

The Dragons climbed off the bottom of the United Rugby Championship with the 13-12 triumph in the Newport rain and now enjoy a weekend off.

They return to action with a Challenge Cup double-header that will decide whether they make the knockout stages.

Flanagan’s men started the European campaign with a bonus-point win against Oyonnax then suffered a last-gasp loss at Pau, when they did at least get a losing bonus.

They travel to Parma to face Zebre next Saturday (kick-off 3.15pm) and then host the Sharks on Sunday, January 21 (kick-off 5.30pm).

The Dragons suffered a Boxing Day humiliation in Cardiff that led to Flanagan wielding the axe against the Scarlets, and the head coach has suggested he will keep changes to a minimum for Italy.

South Wales Argus: Dragons head coach Dai FlanaganDragons head coach Dai Flanagan (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“The boys that have got the shirt deserve to keep the shirt,” said Flanagan, who dropped Wales forwards Bradley Roberts and Taine Basham from the matchday 23.

“We need to be a bit more ruthless, if you play badly then there is someone else ready to go. It was great to see the boys that we put into the side take a step forward.”

Flanagan was given food for thought by the performance of flanker-turned-hooker James Benjamin, who played the full 80 minutes after being preferred to Roberts.

With Six Nations hopeful Elliot Dee aiming to be fit after a rib issue and up-and-coming Brodie Coghlan pushing for action, the Dragons have options at the heart of the front row with Benjamin the man in possession of the shirt.

“He was superb and his rugby-playing ability adds to us, along with his work-rate and communication. You could hear him on the ref mic talking to people around him,” said Flanagan.

The Dragons should have Wales wing Rio Dyer and centre Steff Hughes back from concussion for the trip to Zebre but novices Ewan Rosser and Harri Ackerman performed well on New Year’s Day.

South Wales Argus: JOY: Harri Ackerman (right) celebrates the Dragons' win against the ScarletsJOY: Harri Ackerman (right) celebrates the Dragons' win against the Scarlets (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Wales Under-20s international Ackerman, 19 at the end of last month, caught the eye on his first professional start.

“What a night for him to play against Johnny Williams, who is one of the most physical 12s in the league,” said Flanagan.

“We will have the same approach as we had with Ryan Woodman, who has integrated into the team and was outstanding off the bench against the Scarlets.

“We had the ability to put him in at lock because we lost George Nott, who struggled all week with a neck spasm.

“With all of our youngsters, they will go as far as they want to go. We will supply a quality programme and help them but they are only with us for four or five hours a day, they are at home for the rest.”