Prop Patrice Collazo is back in action this weekend
HEAD coach Dean Ryan has made three changes to his side ahead of Gloucester's Guinness Premiership trip to Saracens on Sunday (1.30pm).
Prop Patrice Collazo, second row Jonathan Pendlebury and flanker Peter Buxton return to the side in place of Nick Wood, Adam Eustace and Andy Hazell respectively.
Hazell is ruled out because of a head injury sustained against Leeds Tykes last weekend which means Jake Boer moves to the openside and Buxton comes in on the blindside.
The experienced Collazo returns to the front row alongside Mefin Davies and skipper Phil Vickery, while Pendlebury gets another chance to impress with Alex Brown in the second row.
Both Jake Boer (ankle) and Mike Tindall (neck) have been passed fit to start at Vicarage Road. Welsh Under-21 skipper James Merriman steps up to the first team squad and will sit on the bench.
For the third game running, the back-line will remain unchanged.
Gloucester, who have lost their last four away Premiership matches, will be looking to strengthen their position in the top four and have already beaten Saracens (19-8) at Kingsholm in November.
However, they have only ever won twice at Vicarage Road (in 2002-3 and 2003-4) but Adam Balding acknowledged to www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk that Sunday's encounter is critical ahead of the rest of the season.
"I think in the last few weeks we have become more threatening with ball in hand and have defended in the manner we want to," Balding said. "We have definitely taken steps in the right direction but we need to get a victory at the weekend.
"We know we are capable of winning but it will be a very tough game. Saracens have got some big men, are exceptionally competitive and have a very good home record.
"This is a hugely important game for both teams, particularly with the Six Nations just around the corner. Although we beat Leeds last Saturday, it was a disappointing performance in many ways and something we are desperate to put right this weekend."
The contest could become a shootout between the two leading scorers in the Premiership. Gloucester's Ludovic Mercier currently leads the way with 143 points with Glen Jackson of Saracens close behind on 135.
The Shed bar will screen the game live on Sunday and the bar will be open from 12pm.
GLOUCESTER v Saracens (Sunday, January 8, 1.30pm, live on Sky): Olly Morgan; James Bailey, James Simpson-Daniel, Mike Tindall, Mark Foster; Ludovic Mercier, Peter Richards; Patrice Collazo, Mefin Davies, Phil Vickery (capt), Jonathan Pendlebury, Alex Brown, Peter Buxton, Jake Boer, Adam Balding. Reps: Terry Sigley, Rob Elloway, Adam Eustace, James Merriman, Haydn Thomas, Terry Fanolua, Brad Davies.
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.
Speaking immediately after the game, skipper Willi Heinz thought that Gloucester had executed their game plan reasonably well and competed hard against Saracens. However, it wasn't enough but the squad will have plenty to work on this week ahead of the derby match against Bristol.
Gloucester may be coming off their best win of the season, the 38-16 victory over Wasps last weekend, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys admits that Sunday's trip to Saracens is an even tougher test.
Looking to try a new sport? Look no further than Walking Rugby as thanks to Gloucester Rugby you can come along and try out the fast-growing sport at taster sessions across the county, starting this Wednesday.
Gloucester return to European Rugby Challenge Cup action on Thursday evening with the visit of Stade Rochelais to Kingsholm (kick off 7:45pm). Early Bird ticket prices are available until 6:30pm on matchday.
Talk about a game of two halves. Things looked grim on Saturday as Gloucester trailed 0-6 to Bristol at half-time. However, Matt Scott's eighth try of the season got Gloucester off and running, and the visitors fell apart as the Cherry and Whites eased to a 26-18 bonus point Aviva Premiership win.