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.
Fly-half Billy Burns was named Man of the Match after the 35-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup victory over Stade Rochelais on Thursday evening, and was full of praise for all his team mates for the win after a short turnaround.
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.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.