A LOT has changed in the two years since Rhodri Williams left a Bristol on the up but the scrum-half is confident the Dragons can upset the double-chasing Bears in Europe.

Williams is likely to lead the region out when he returns to Ashton Gate for the European Challenge Cup quarter-final on Friday, September 18 (kick-off 7.45pm).

The 27-year-old spent two seasons with Bristol and was instrumental in helping the club back to the English Premiership in 2018.

A return to Wales was too good to turn down – and could result in an international call-up this autumn for the first time in six years – but Williams knew he was leaving a club making strides.

Boss Pat Lam has since built a formidable squad, adding quality steadily, and the result is a push for the Premiership play-offs while hunting European silverware.

If Bristol aren’t focusing on domestic rugby – and they have a hectic schedule that features three league games before the Dragons clash, the last against Wasps just five days ahead of it – then they could field superstars Charles Piutau, Semi Radradra, Kyle Sinckler and Nathan Hughes.

Free Press Series: POWERFUL: England number eight Nathan Hughes on the charge for BristolPOWERFUL: England number eight Nathan Hughes on the charge for Bristol

Even if they don’t field the first team then Lam’s seconds are pretty handy.

“They are building a great team and you can see that with the success that they have had recently,” said Williams. “It’s something that we can look forward to and challenge ourselves against the best.

“At the end of the day it’s 15 against 15 and we will be going into it to win; we’d never go into a game defeated already and we are quite confident.

“We have got some quality in the side and we are not hiding from the fact that we’ve signed really well in the summer.

“Nick Tompkins learnt a lot at Saracens and has brought those values to the back line and squad, on and off the field he is a great player.

“Jamie Roberts has come in and added more experience, we haven’t seen him on the field yet but he has brought so much off it to help the youngsters. He is constantly giving tips and adds great value.”

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Williams is a key figure himself and after a steady first campaign in Newport pushed on in the second, forming a strong half-back partnership with Sam Davies.

Tomos Williams’ injury and Aled Davies’ departure to Saracens has opened the door for a possible Test recall but the Dragons skipper is too experienced to start thinking of a Wales return.

“I need to get my things right here first, so that’s a long way down the line. I just have to keep plodding on,” he said.

The Dragons have a week off before returning to work towards the Bristol game, with an upset earning a crack at either Bordeaux-Begles or Edinburgh.

“We have taken massive strides this season,” said Williams. “We were disappointed to get broken up by Covid but we built well during it, keeping in touch on Zoom and doing things off the field that will be great further down the line.

“We’ve always spoke about the long-term plan and the youngsters learnt some valuable experiences from the derby games.

“We are building and now Bristol is a massive game for us. It will be interesting to go back, I’ve not really touched base with any of the boys recently but there will be a bit of banter on the field.

“We speak about experiences and a quarter-final against one of the best English sides at the moment is massive for the whole squad.”