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European preview: Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs

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The excitement at Gloucester Rugby has been palpable all week long, according to director of rugby David Humphreys, ahead of this evening’s European semi-final.

The Cherry & Whites have been unstoppable in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, recording six pool-stage wins – with five try bonus points – before edging past Connacht 14-7 in the quarter-finals.

Next up comes a huge test, with Aviva Premiership Rugby title challengers Exeter Chiefs coming to Kingsholm as the team that stands between Gloucester and a place in the final.

Humphreys has made two changes in the pack from last weekend’s defeat to Harlequins, with Matt Kvesic and Mariano Galarza lining up for the clash – their first European semi-final since 2006.

Meanwhile, a re-shuffle in the back line sees Charlie Sharples at full-back, Jonny May switching to the right wing and Henry Purdy starting on the left.

“We all want to be involved in big games at Kingsholm,” said Humphreys. “We've talked about this season and how a number of our good performances have been at home and against the top teams in England.

"Exeter fall into that bracket. We know that them coming here is a huge challenge for us, but we've done a huge amount of work throughout the course of the European competition to clinch a home quarter-final and now semi-final.

“History has shown that home advantage is a big part of success in Europe.

"You only have to be here at Hartpury this week to appreciate that everyone understands what this weekend means to the club, what it means to the players who have put a huge amount of work into this season so far, without probably the rewards we'd all hoped for.

“We're all very excited about the game this weekend.”

Exeter have made just one change to the XV that started last weekend’s 21-10 victory over Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Northampton Saints, Kai Horstmann coming in for the injured Ben White at openside.

The Chiefs produced arguably the standout performance of the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, beating Newcastle Falcons 48-13, and head coach Rob Baxter will be hoping for a similar display in Gloucester.

“A packed out Kingsholm with the conditions like they are now, it should be a fantastic place to go and play a game of rugby,” said Baxter.

“We need to make sure we use that as our motivation and not let it worry us that we’re going away from home.

“We’ve put in some big performances away from home this season and now we have to back it up and show we’re not afraid to go out and win the game.

“Obviously now getting to the semi-final of this competition and being in the top four of the Premiership, it’s making it a very exciting season for us, and for me I think that’s the real key, we want to be excited about things and not fret too much.”
 
Gloucester Rugby: Charlie Sharples; Jonny May, Bill Meakes, Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Purdy; James Hook, Greig Laidlaw; Nick Wood, Richard Hibbard, John Afoa; Tom Savage, Mariano Galarza; Sione Kalamafoni, Matt Kvesic, Gareth Evans
 
Replacements: Darren Dawidiuk, Dan Murphy, Sila Puafisi, Elliott Stooke, Ross Moriarty, Dan Robson, Billy Burns, Brendan Macken
 
Exeter Chiefs: Phil Dollman; Ian Whitten, Jack Nowell, Sam Hill, Matt Jess; Henry Slade, Will Chudley; Ben Moon, Jack Yeandle, Tomas Francis; Dean Mumm, Mitch Lees; Dave Ewers, Kai Horstmann, Thomas Waldrom
 
Replacements: Elvis Taione, Carl Rimmer, Alex Brown, Sam Skinner, Tom Johnson, Dave Lewis, Gareth Steenson, Tom James
 
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