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.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees told GRTV after the win in Brive that the game could have been a tough one to get up for, but that his Gloucester team mates did themselves proud on the night and got a big result.
Reflecting on the 31-20 victory in Brive on Thursday evening, Director of Rugby David Humphreys said that clinching a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final was the overall aim and duly achieved.
Gloucester may have already clinched a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys wants his side to finish the pool stages on a winning note in Brive on Thursday evening.
Speaking after Saturday's win, James Hudson was happy to record a bonus-point win against a hugely physical Oyonnax side as Gloucester secured their passage into the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Finals
Billy Burns was a try scorer on his first European start for Gloucester and, speaking after the game, admitted that it was good to get the five points although there are still things to work on before the trip to Brive.
Gloucester Rugby have added to their front row strength in depth for next season with the signings of Paul Doran-Jones, Paddy McAllister and Nicky Thomas from Harlequins, Aurillac and the Ospreys respectively.
Connacht's 30-20 win in La Rochelle on Saturday evening means that they are the third best placed runners up and will come to Kingsholm for the quarter-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup in early April.