THE Dragons face a battle to avoid finishing bottom of the United Rugby Championship but that won’t stop head coach Dai Flanagan giving youth a chance in the run-in.

The Rodney Parade club suffered a huge blow in their last game before the Six Nations when beaten by the Sharks and dumped out of the European Challenge Cup.

It means that all they have to play for is the scrap to avoid propping up the URC and a duel with the Scarlets to be Wales’ third-placed side rather than worst.

The Dragons have nine fixtures to go, starting with a trip to Glasgow a week on Saturday.

Their final game is against the Scarlets at Cardiff City Stadium on June 1 - and the boss will look to blood young talent over the next four months.

So far this season he has already given a first taste of senior rugby to wing Ewan Rosser, centres Harri Ackerman and Joe Westwood, lock Barny Langton-Cryer and tighthead Nathan Evans while back rower Ryan Woodman, hooker Brodie Coghlan and tighthead Luke Yendle have been given more opportunities.

The Dragons also have six players in Wales Under-20s’ squad for the Six Nations – Ackerman, full-back Huw Anderson, wings Walker Price and Harry Rees-Weldon, prop Jordan Morris and lock Nick Thomas.

With the four Welsh professional clubs operating with a £4.5million salary cap next season, tough decisions are looming and that means greater reliance on the next generation of homegrown talent.

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

Head coach Flanagan said: “We’ve got to expose a few more youngsters, got to bring some depth into the squad with another round of cuts to come, and I am sure these boys will come through.

“We’ve had Ryan Woodman and Harri Ackerman playing but it has been great to see the likes of Joe Westwood getting his debut, Ewan Rosser getting a bit more time recently.

“We’ve got some fantastic players at Newport, Ebbw Vale and Pontypool who we’ll see come through.

“We’ve got some talent here. It’s our job to fast track it now. We just need to make sure we don't tarnish development by blooding them all together and give them good experiences.”

The way that the Dragons brought through Woodman appears to be the blueprint.

The flanker/lock was given a taste of senior rugby last season and was making strides in the current campaign until he suffered a serious thumb injury.

South Wales Argus: PROMISING: Harri Ackerman in action for the Dragons against ZebrePROMISING: Harri Ackerman in action for the Dragons against Zebre (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Ackerman made his debut against Oyonnax in December and started three games before heading off to Wales duty.

His workload over the coming weeks, captaining the Under-20s in the absence of Woodman, is likely to determine how much he plays in the URC run-in, especially with the World Rugby U20 Championship looming this summer.

Flanagan and his coaches will weigh up how many youngsters can be fielded in the same matchday squad, plus what level of challenge they will face.

“Harri had tough games with Zebre and Sharks in Europe, and a derby game with Scarlets. They're good experiences that they get better from,” said the head coach.

“Arguably going to South Africa and taking 60 points is not a good experience. So, we've got to make sure we get it right.”