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 straight after the game, skipper Billy Twelvetrees told GRTV that losing at home to Bath, in front of a tremendous home support, was desperately disappointing and that the whole team were hurting in the dressing room.
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.
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.