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.
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.
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.
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).