ADAM Balding is fit and available for selection ahead of Gloucester's Guinness Premiership match against Newcastle following his triple-fracture of his cheekbone.
The Kingsholm number eight could feature in the squad for the first time since September 4 and the opening weekend of hostilities against Worcester after recovering from a sixth minute collision with the Warriors' Drew Hickey that has ruled him out of action ever since.
Head coach Dean Ryan has confirmed Balding is fit again but his involvement is likely to be from the bench against Newcastle should he make the final squad of 22.
"I am not sure what level of involvement I could get but anything is a positive step for me," Balding told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk. "It's been a really hard few months but I just want to put everything behind me and concentrate on getting back in the team.
"I worked very hard during pre-season to get myself in shape but I have never felt in better condition than I do at the moment and my next step is to get some game time.
"Physically and mentally I could not be better prepared and I really looking forward to the opportunity - whenever it arrives."
Balding required metal plates to be inserted into his eye socket and cheek following the incident at Sixways but has since returned to a rigorous training programme with fitness conditioner Mike Anthony.
"I firmly believe that what makes a man a man is his ability to deal with situations, however unpleasant, and move on," Balding added. "I have done that and feel good about myself."
Gloucester will also hope to have full-back Jon Goodridge back in contention following a hip injury, while Jake Boer and Terry Fanolua will continue to be monitored with toe and knee injuries respectively.
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.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Matt Kvesic was a try scorer and recipient of the Man of the Match award in Sunday's 35-10 European Rugby Challenge Cup win over Zebre. He praised the Italian side for their spirited opposition and admitted that next week's return game will be a tough one.