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 local media this week, front row forward John Afoa spoke of the squad's targets for this weekend's European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Final with Cardiff Blues at Kingsholm. Despite taking on new opponents, the squad know the focus is on themselves to get the job done as knockout rugby kicks in.
Gloucester-Hartpury Women take on West Park Leeds Ladies in the final of the Intermediate Cup Final on Saturday. Head Coach Susie Appleby took time out to preview the game and chat about the future for the team.
Number eight Ben Morgan admitted that the 32-14 Aviva Premiership win over Bristol on Friday evening hadn't been pretty at times, but that the win was based on everyone in the squad remaining united and working for each other.
Previewing Friday evening's local derby at Bristol, Interim Head Coach Jonny Bell told the local media that Gloucester's preparations have gone well and that the whole squad is united in trying to finish the season on a high.
Speaking to GRTV this week, Acting Head Coach Jonny Bell spoke of his pleasure in the efforts and intensity in training from the squad after a tricky few weeks. The team were preparing for big games with Bristol and Cardiff in coming weeks.
Willi Heinz was understandably and visibly disappointed when he spoke to GRTV after the 27-30 home defeat to Harlequins, apologising to the home support as the game slipped away after seemingly having the game under control.
In the aftermath of the Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol, Interim Head Coach Jonny Bell was able to look forward to this weekend's European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues (Kingsholm, kick off 8:05pm).