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.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees told GRTV after the win in Brive that the game could have been a tough one to get up for, but that his Gloucester team mates did themselves proud on the night and got a big result.
Reflecting on the 31-20 victory in Brive on Thursday evening, Director of Rugby David Humphreys said that clinching a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final was the overall aim and duly achieved.
Gloucester may have already clinched a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys wants his side to finish the pool stages on a winning note in Brive on Thursday evening.
Speaking after Saturday's win, James Hudson was happy to record a bonus-point win against a hugely physical Oyonnax side as Gloucester secured their passage into the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Finals
Billy Burns was a try scorer on his first European start for Gloucester and, speaking after the game, admitted that it was good to get the five points although there are still things to work on before the trip to Brive.
Gloucester Rugby have added to their front row strength in depth for next season with the signings of Paul Doran-Jones, Paddy McAllister and Nicky Thomas from Harlequins, Aurillac and the Ospreys respectively.
Connacht's 30-20 win in La Rochelle on Saturday evening means that they are the third best placed runners up and will come to Kingsholm for the quarter-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup in early April.