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.
Speaking to the local media this week, David Humphreys insisted that Gloucester are looking forward to kicking off the new European Rugby Challenge Cup against Brive on Thursday evening, although an unfamiliar opponent and a five day turnaround will pose a challenge.
Director of Rugby David Humphreys felt that his Gloucester side put themselves in a position to put Saracens under real pressure at Allianz Park on Saturday, praising his team's commitment and defence, while admitting that a lack of accuracy hit their chances in the second half.
Speaking to the local media at Allianz Park, Tom Savage was disappointed after the defeat at Saracens, but claimed Gloucester did plenty of good things and could've taken more than a losing bonus point.
In case you missed it, there was plenty of activity on the official Gloucester Rugby website following the 55-0 European Rugby Challenge Cup win over CA Brive, including a number of post match video interviews.
The Cherry and Whites ran in seven tries in beating CA Brive 55-0 on Thursday night. An emphatic second half performance saw the hosts run in five tries to get the European campaign off to a flying start.