JAMES MERRIMAN will make his first Guinness Premiership start against Leicester Tigers tomorrow night (7.45).
The openside flanker is preparing for one of the biggest nights of his career at Kingsholm as head coach Dean Ryan hands him a place in the number seven shirt in the absence of Andy Hazell.
Merriman's inclusion is one of a number of changes because of injury and international call-ups, but Merriman is relishing his chance to impress on the national stage for the first time following a series of outstanding displays in the Guinness A League, where is one of the top try scorers.
"A game against Leicester is always one of the biggest in Gloucester's season and with the internationals away there is even more responsibility, but I just cannot wait for it.
"It will be my first start in the Premiership and certainly one of the biggest games I have played in. I know I have had to wait for an opportunity but now it's here, I just want to try and take it and do everything I can for the team.
"I have an opportunity against one of the best teams in the country and it will be a great experience."
Merriman has skippered Wales at Under-21 level, has progressed from Gloucester's Academy system at Hartpury College and recently signed a new one-year contract extension with the Kingsholm club.
He will be joined in the back row by Jake Boer (blindside) and James Forrester at number eight, who makes his first start since the Boxing Day defeat at Wasps because of a rib injury.
In the second row, Jonathan Pendlebury gets a chance alongside Alex Brown, while Patrice Collazo, Rob Elloway and Gary Powell form the front row.
But it is in the backs where Gloucester are most hampered. Both Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel are away with England ahead of their Six Nations clash in Italy, Anthony Allen and Ryan Lamb are involved with the Under-21 set-up and both Olly Morgan and Haydn Thomas are injured.
It means Jon Goodridge comes in at full-back for Morgan, James Bailey and Mark Foster get chances on the wing, while Rudi Keil will make his first Premiership start in the centre alongside Terry Fanolua.
At half-back Ludovic Mercier - the leading points scorer in the Premiership - partners Peter Richards at scrum-half.
On the bench, Gloucester have named five forwards and two backs. James Parkes and Nick Wood are the front row cover; Adam Eustace, Adam Balding and Peter Buxton will bring plenty of experience and physicality to the middle of the pack, while Simon Amor and Brad Davies cover the backs positions.
GLOUCESTER (v Leicester, tomorrow, 7.45pm): Jon Goodridge; James Bailey, Rudi Keil, Terry Fanolua, Mark Foster; Ludovic Mercier, Peter Richards; Patrice Collazo, Rob Elloway, Gary Powell, Jonathan Pendlebury, Alex Brown, Jake Boer (capt), James Merriman, James Forrester. Reps: James Parkes, Nick Wood, Adam Eustace, Peter Buxton, Adam Balding, Simon Amor, Brad Davies.
Speaking to the media following the 31-33 West Country Challenge Cup defeat to Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium, Director of Rugby David Humphreys was full of praise for his side's battling qualities in a bruising encounter but concerned about the injuries picked up.
The West Country Challenge Cup fixture against the Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol on Saturday (kick off 3pm) will be Gloucester's last chance to work on things like new combinations says Director of Rugby, David Humphreys.
Speaking after the 30-21 West Country Challenge Cup defeat at Bath, Director of Rugby David Humphreys spoke of the improvements his team are making as preseason progresses but acknowledges that there is still work to do ahead of the start of the Aviva Premiership.
Speaking to the local media ahead of Saturday's trip to Bath Rugby in the West Country Challenge Cup, front rower Nick Wood spoke of the hard work put in across the extended preseason and highlighted the competition for front row spots in the squad.
Gloucester have named a 30 man squad for the latest round of West Country Challenge Cup action against Bath on Saturday, with Director of Rugby David Humphreys stressing the need to keep an eye on player workload ahead of what will be a long, tough season.
Describing the 50-7 West Country Challenge Cup win over Bath on Sunday as a '...good hit out...', wing Charlie Sharples admitted that it had been a good opportunity to put into practice things that the squad have been trying out in training in recent weeks.
Speaking to the local media after the 50-7 victory over Bath Rugby on Sunday, David Humphreys was happy with his squad's effort, with the most important aspect being the game time earned by his players.
Gloucester make wholesale changes to the side that started at Exeter last Saturday as they prepare to take on Bath at the Memorial Stadium, Bristol on Sunday in the West Country Challenge Cup (kick off 3pm). The Director of Rugby told GRTV that the players are raring to go and that he's looking forward to seeing different combinations in action.