WALES flanker Aaron Wainwright admits that his standards dropped at the start of the year – but he's recharged and ready to fly into a European Challenge Cup quarter-final with the Dragons.

The 22-year-old from Bassaleg's rapid rise from a professional debut in 2017 to Test star has been well-documented.

Wainwright has racked up 50 Dragons appearances, notched 21 caps, won a Grand Slam and started in a World Cup semi-final.

But the heavy workload – physically and mentally – from almost two years of constant rugby took its toll on the dynamic back row forward when he returned from Japan.

Wainwright was far from a weak link but felt that he didn't hit the high standards that he had previously set for both club and country.

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The dynamic back rower, who has been mentioned as a Lions contender, believes an enforced rest courtesy of coronavirus has done him the power of good.

"The break did come at a good time for me. I wouldn't say that I was struggling but I wasn't playing my best rugby after coming back from the World Cup. I played in the Six Nations but don't think that was my best rugby," he said.

"The break has done me a bit of good to give the body time to recover and I am feeling full of energy now, feeling excited to get back out playing. I'm really looking forward to the season ahead."

Wainwright came off the bench against France in the Six Nations before missing out against England when Wayne Pivac opted for a trio of Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi backed up by Taulupe Faletau.

The Dragons flanker went 26 weeks between facing Les Bleus and returning to action as a replacement against the Ospreys then a starter versus the Scarlets in August.

"It was nice to have a bit of a chill out and recover," he said. "I wasn't playing my best rugby towards lockdown so it probably came at a good time.

"I am full of energy now, the Ospreys and Scarlets games were nice derby games to set us up for this nicely."

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'This' for Wainwright and the Dragons is a mouth-watering Challenge Cup quarter-final at Bristol.

The flanker has experienced knockout rugby with Wales, scoring a try in the last-eight World Cup clash against France, but this is new territory in club colours.

The Dragons head to Ashton Gate as underdogs against a Bristol team hunting the double and boasting the likes of Kyle Sinckler, Semi Radradra and Nathan Hughes in their line-up.

"They are flying high in the Premiership and have a bunch of big-name players, so I am sure it will be a big clash," said Wainwright, who is set to join forces in the back row with Moriarty and Taine Basham . "Everyone is excited and looking forward to this challenge."

Pat Lam's Bristol side, like his Connacht team, play some daring rugby that will test the lungs and concentration of the Dragons.

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"Dean (Ryan, director of rugby) has been saying that with high risk comes high reward but that there are going to be a lot of places in their game that we can pick on and disrupt their game plan," said Wainwright.

"We have to stop that coast-to-coast game. With them playing from anywhere, we have to be switched on for the full 80 minutes.

"Anywhere that we look weak or have switched off, they are going to try and come after us.

"There is nowhere we can hide when we are out on the pitch but everyone is excited, and it will have to be a big shift from everybody to make the semi-finals."

If the Dragons upset the odds then they will go on the road next Friday to either Edinburgh or Bordeaux-Begles (kick-off 7.45pm).

The teams for the Ashton Gate clash are named at midday tomorrow.