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.
Jonny May's superb late score capped a thrilling 40-32 European play-off win over Connacht on Sunday. The winger spoke afterwards of his team's character and spirit as he looked ahead to one more week of rugby.
Speaking to GRTV this afternoon, Director of Rugby David Humphreys hailed the 'never say die' attitude of the team, after despite not being at their best, fighting back to take a 40-32 win after extra time over Connacht.
Jonny May continues on the wing on Sunday as Connacht come to town, and the England wing explains to the local media this week that he is delighted with his form and is looking forward to taking on Pat Lam's men.
Speaking to the local media this week, front rower John Afoa is familiar with the challenge of Connacht from his time in Belfast, and the World Cup winner is fully aware of the challenge they pose ahead of Sunday's meeting in the Champions Cup play off
Speaking ahead of Gloucester's European Rugby Champions play-off against Connacht on Sunday (Kingsholm, 3:30pm), Director of Rugby David Humphreys admitted that he's glad to have more players available than in recent weeks ahead of a tough fixture.
Nick Wood captained the Cherry and Whites on Saturday afternoon, and the experienced front rower expressed his pride in the young squad in defeat to Bath on the final day of the Aviva Premiership season.
Lewis Ludlow scored Gloucester's opening try in the 30-50 defeat at Bath on Saturday, part of an impressive performance by the young back row forward. Speaking after the game, he paid tribute to the young Gloucester side who went toe to toe with the Aviva Premiership semi-finalists.
Speaking to the local media after the game, Director of Rugby David Humphreys gave an honest assessment of the game, and expressed his pride in the way his young charges had performed against the title-chasing hosts.
Speaking to the local media this week, Gloucester Rugby scrum half Callum Braley is excited by the challenge of the West Country Derby, and the ex-Bristol man reveals the squad will be giving their all.
At the recent London Irish game, personnel from the Imjin Barracks in Innsworth, including Gurkhas, were present, holding a collection to raise funds for ShelterBox to aid relief from the recent Nepal Earthquake Appeal.
It was a thriller at Kingsholm on Sunday afternoon, as Gloucester snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, leveling the scores in the final minute before triumphing in extra time over a spirited Connacht side.