RYAN LAMB will return to the stand-off position for Gloucester's decisive EDF Energy Cup tie against Newcastle on Sunday.
The 22-year-old missed Gloucester's 25-20 victory over the Dragons last Saturday because of a pelvic injured picked up during their Heineken Cup defeat against Cardiff a fortnight ago and is one of six changes to the team named last weekend.
Lamb will feature in an all-new half-back combination with Gareth Cooper after a rib injured ruled out Rory Lawson. Willie Walker, who started at 10 against the Dragons, moves to full-back in place of Iain Balshaw, who replaces Mark Foster on the wing.
Up front, there is a welcome return for loose-head prop Nick Wood, whose last performance was against the Falcons in the Guinness Premiership at the end of September. He has not featured since because of a groin strain.
Andy Titterrell makes his first start since the first game of the season at hooker and will complete a front row alongside Carlos Nieto.
In the second row, Alex Brown returns from a foot injury and replaces Marco Bortolami, who drops to the bench. Brown missed the victory over the Dragons and will partner Adam Eustace.
The back row of Peter Buxton, Andy Hazell and Alasdair Strokosch remains intact from last weekend.
The midfield combination of skipper Mike Tindall and Olly Barkley remains intact, while Lesley Vainikolo completes the back three alongside Balshaw, who has scored six tries in his last four appearances and Walker, who scored a try and landed three penalties and a conversion in the first round of the EDF Energy Cup against Wasps.
"In a lot of ways we are probably working harder on aspects of our game than we did last year," said head coach Dean Ryan. "We have become better at certain things but maybe not felt the benefit of them.
"It's important we don't lose sight of that because we are a good side that is looking for the right balance to become successful over the long term.
"We haven't played as well as we would have liked and we recognise that fact but the positive thing from our point of view is that we can get better.
"We want to do well in every game we play, regardless of the competition and that obviously makes Sunday's game very important. We want to get into a position where we are contesting knockout games.
"There are obviously some injuries in and around the squad but we have a good side available to us."
On the bench, hooker Olivier Azam will be joined by prop Alasdair Dickinson, Bortolami and back row option Apo Satala.
The three-quarter options again include centre Jack Adams, scrum-half Dave Lewis, who featured last weekend and winger Charlie Sharples, who joins the senior squad for the first time this season.
GLOUCESTER (v Newcastle, Sunday 3pm): Willie Walker; Iain Balshaw, Mike Tindall (capt), Olly Barkley, Lesley Vainikolo; Ryan Lamb, Gareth Cooper; Nick Wood, Andy Titterrell, Carlos Nieto, Adam Eustace, Alex Brown, Peter Buxton, Andy Hazell, Alasdair Strokosch. Reps: Olivier Azam, Alasdair Dickinson, Marco Bortolami, Apo Satala, Dave Lewis, Jack Adams, Charlie Sharples.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
It's the first Gloucester-Bristol derby at Kingsholm in over eight years this Saturday (kick off 4:30pm) and, previewing the game with the local media this week, Defence Coach Jonny Bell stressed that, with both teams in the bottom half of the table, they both need the points.
Speaking to the local media this week, Gloucester front rower John Afoa knows the challenge ahead this week against Bristol, and calls on the Cherry and Whites to make the most of home advantage as a determined squad look to bounce back from a narrow loss to Saracens.
Tom Savage speaks to GRTV and the local media as Gloucester went down by 24-20 at Saracens on Sunday afternoon. The second row was disappointed with the result, despite a strong showing from the hosts.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.
Having named an unchanged starting XV for the past three Aviva Premiership games, Gloucester Rugby ring the changes and retain only five players for Thursday's visit of Stade Rochelais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 7:45pm).