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.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
On a tough evening at Kingsholm, Gloucester could escape neither a suffocating Bath defence, nor the whistle of referee Greg Garner as six penalties and a penalty try paved the way to a 39-16 win for the visitors.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).