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.
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.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Matt Kvesic was a try scorer and recipient of the Man of the Match award in Sunday's 35-10 European Rugby Challenge Cup win over Zebre. He praised the Italian side for their spirited opposition and admitted that next week's return game will be a tough one.
After a tense opening half hour in Parma, the game turned just before half time as the home team had David Odiete red carded and Gloucester took full advantage, running in three second half tries to secure the bonus point and the victory over Zebre by 32 points to 16.