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.
As Gloucester prepare for their 39th game of the season, against Bordeaux-Begles at Sixways on Sunday, David Humphreys told the local media that this week has been all about getting the players mentally and physically ready after a tough game against Connacht last Sunday.
Speaking to GRTV after the 40-32 victory over Connacht on Sunday, skipper Billy Twelvetrees explained that Gloucester had had to learn to be patient and cut out the errors to earn the win and progress to next weekend's final play-off against Bordeaux-Begles.
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.
Tongan international forward Sione Kalamafoni returns after injury to take up his usual place in the back row as Gloucester look to finish their season on a high against Bordeaux-Begles at Sixways on Sunday.
Gloucester Rugby is delighted to confirm that 18 year old Mat Protheroe, a product of Hartpury College and one of the brightest young talents in the English game, has signed a senior contract at Kingsholm.