NICK WOOD will celebrate his new two-year contract extension by returning to the Gloucester front row for tomorrow's Guinness Premiership meeting with Leeds Tykes (3pm).
The loosehead prop has agreed a deal that will keep him at Kingsholm until 2008 and comes into the side for Patrice Collazo in one of three changes to the team that narrowly lost 32-25 against Wasps on Boxing Day.
One is enforced with Jake Boer returning to the back row in place of the injured James Forrester, who is ruled out with a rib injury. Peter Buxton comes back into the squad and is on the bench.
The only other alteration also comes in the forwards where Adam Eustace, who made a tremendous late contribution at the Causeway Stadium, returns to the second row in place of Jonathan Pendlebury, who is given a rest.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for these guys to come in and perform for us," head coach Dean Ryan told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk "Nick Wood is a hugely impressive up and coming young talent and we need to use players like that.
"Adam Eustace is experienced in the Premiership and is a key man for us in the second row."
Ryan has kept other changes at a minimum and he has remained faithful with the back-line that gave Wasps such a fright.
It means James Bailey, who has scored two tries in two Premiership appearances this season, gets another run alongside Mark Foster on the wing.
The burgeoning threat of James Simpson-Daniel and Mike Tindall are again paired in the centre, while Peter Richards and Ludovic Mercier form the half-back partnership.
But the task for Gloucester is to maintain the intensity that was so evident in the last hour against Wasps as they bid to climb up the table from sixth place.
They turned a 22-3 deficit around in the second half on Monday and came exceptionally close to stealing at least a draw.
"I think we can take a lot of confidence out of the defeat at Wasps and not just in the second half," Ryan added. "The first 15 or 20 minutes hit us hard in terms of pace and intensity but we now have to see if we can respond in the right way against a different side in a different situation.
"The players now have an indication of what we are after on a consistent basis. We found ourselves in a situation at Wasps that showed everybody very clearly exactly the level of performance we expect all the time.
"We found the level of commitment we now always expect and the task for us now is to back that up week on week.
"I am now confident we can play at that level consistently. We can afford no let up in the intensity against Leeds - that is our challenge."
GLOUCESTER (v Leeds Tykes, tomorrow, Kingsholm 3pm): Olly Morgan; Mark Foster, Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel, James Bailey; Ludovic Mercier, Peter Richards; Nick Wood, Mefin Davies, Phil Vickery (capt), Adam Eustace, Alex Brown, Jake Boer, Andy Hazell, Adam Balding. Reps: Rob Elloway, Terry Sigley, Jonathan Pendlebury, Peter Buxton, Haydn Thomas, Brad Davies, Terry Fanolua.
There are still standing tickets available for tomorrow's clash and they are available from the ticket hotline number 0871 871 8781 and the ticket office will be open from 10am tomorrow morning.
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.