Leon Lloyd, Lesley Vainikolo and Olly Morgan will all be involved against Cardiff
LESLEY VAINIKOLO, one of the biggest summer signings to hit the Guinness Premiership, will make his Gloucester debut tomorrow in their first pre-season game against Cardiff Blues (2.30pm).
The former Bradford Bulls star will be one of 10 players involved in Dean Ryan's senior squad of 24 tomorrow for the first time at the Arms Park.
But it will be the presence of Vainikolo that will capture the imagination as Ryan gets the first chance to see his new-look squad in action
"I'll let my actions do the talking. That's why I'm here," Vainikolo said.
"I am looking forward to Saturday, but not too much because I have done that before and not had a good game.
"The coaches have told me to get out there and have fun, do what I do best and see what happens."
Vainikolo will wear the number 11 shirt and be joined in the backs by new signing Leon Lloyd and scrum-half Mike Prendergast, who made the switches from Leicester and Bourgoin respectively in the summer.
Prendergast will partner Ryan Lamb at half-back, while Anthony Allen has been named alongside Lloyd in midfield. Mark Foster and Iain Balshaw will complete the back three alongside Vainikolo.
The forward pack is also strong and Gloucester will be skippered by hooker Olivier Azam. He will be joined in the front row by loose-head Patrice Collazo, who has recovered from a groin injury and Christian Califano.
Jonathan Pendlebury and Alex Brown will be the second row combination, while new signing Alasdair Strokosch will wear six and form a back a back row trio alongside breakaway Andy Hazell and number eight Luke Narraway.
"Our pre-season games have been specifically designed with the start of the Guinness Premiership in mind and we are pretty excited about the combinations we will see tomorrow," said Ryan.
"We have done a huge amount of work in preparation for these two games against Cardiff and Ulster because we want to replicate the pressure and intensity of the Premiership and at the same time look closely at new players in a game environment.
"We are aware of the expectation on guys like Lesley but we are here to manage that for him - I just think it will be great to see him in action.
"I have been very impressed with the attitude and contribution of all the new players and it is time to take that forward now."
On the bench, Ryan has named nine replacements with a five-four split between forwards and backs. Former Sale hooker Andy Titterrell will get some game time at some stage and is joined by fellow front rower Alasdair Dickinson, who joined the club from Edinburgh, Nick Wood, lock Dan Tuohy, who joins the senior squad for the first time and Academy back rower Dan Williams.
Scrum-half Dave Lewis, utility back Will Walker, centre Ali James and England full-back Olly Morgan complete Ryan's options.
GLOUCESTER (v Cardiff, tomorrow, 2.30pm): Iain Balshaw; Mark Foster, Leon Lloyd, Anthony Allen, Lesley Vainikolo, Ryan Lamb, Mike Prendergast; Patrice Collazo, Olivier Azam (capt), Christian Califano, Jonathan Pendlebury, Alex Brown, Alasdair Strokosch, Andy Hazell, Luke Narraway. Reps: Andy Titterrell, Alasdair Dickinson, Nick Wood, Dan Tuohy, Dan Williams, Dave Lewis, Willie Walker, Ali James, Olly Morgan.
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.