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.
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.
After a tense opening half hour in Parma, the game turned just before half time as the home team had David Odiete red carded and Gloucester took full advantage, running in three second half tries to secure the bonus point and the victory over Zebre by 32 points to 16.