HARRI Keddie expects the battle for places in the Dragons' back row to be even hotter because of the desire to play in European quarter-final.

The Rodney Parade region will travel to Bristol in the last eight of the Challenge Cup on the first weekend of April.

The Dragons have a break until resuming the Guinness PRO14 with a home clash with Benetton on Saturday, February 15 and there are five rounds of action until the short trip to Ashton Gate.

It's certain that boss Dean Ryan will have a welcome selection headache in the back row for the meeting with his former side.

Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty will be back from Six Nations duty with Wales to tussle with Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, Taine Basham, Huw Taylor, fit-again Lewis Evans, James Benjamin and Ben Fry.

Keddie was man of the match against Enisei-STM on Friday on his first start since November, scoring a try, setting up another and impressing with his work rate around the field.

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"The competition in the back row is bringing the best out of us at the moment," said the 23-year-old from Llanvaches, who had previously been adding energy off the bench.

"Look at Taine this year, he came in and has taken his chances excellently, then Ross and Aaron have been outstanding, Cory Hill (Wales lock) has jumped into the back row recently as well.

"Then there was Lewis Evans and Huw Taylor at the start of the season putting in good performances, Ollie, James Benjamin, Ben Fry – everyone has been excellent when they have come in and there is really stiff competition.

"That's healthy, we all help each other along the way and push each other to get better by doing extras off the field."

The Dragons earned knockout rugby by finished second in Pool One behind Castres, who turned on the power to finish the group stages by hammering Dean Ryan's men at the Stade Pierre-Fabre and beat Worcester with a bonus point at Sixways.

The region did the job professionally against Russian side Enisei twice, ran in four tries against Castres in an opening round win in Newport, fought for a consolation bonus after playing with 14 men for an hour in the West Midlands then beat the Warriors in a tense clash at Rodney Parade.

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"Once you have qualified you look back at the games as a collective rather than specific results and it shows the importance of the bonus point that we picked up away at Worcester with 14 men," said Keddie.

"It's credit to the squad and the coaching staff for the gameplan that we have implemented to pick up those points whenever we have been able to. Whoever has stepped in to play in this European tournament has played really well."

"A lot of the younger boys weren't around the last time we got through to the knock-out stages, we were all watching it as we came through the academy," he continued.

"It's testimony to the hard work everyone's put in that we've got something out of Europe in terms of getting to the quarter-finals.

"It's game by game now, there is no form to it and we will take whatever comes in our stride."

The Dragons now have a break to recover from a hectic period that included three tough festive derbies, a bruising encounter with Castres' heavy hitters and then a crunch tie against physical Russians.

"We are not the biggest squad and any injuries hit us harder than other clubs, who do have bigger budgets and more players to bring in," said Keddie.

"We've got a few weeks to get boys back on their feet and our bodies back to where they need to be to dig in for another few rounds in the PRO14."