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Willi Heinz and Greig Laidlaw return for Gloucester Rugby’s European semi-final

Gloucester Rugby welcome back scrum-halves Willi Heinz and Greig Laidlaw to the matchday squad as they make five changes to their starting line-up for Saturday evening’s European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final against Stade Rochelais.

With Callum Braley having picked up a knock last weekend against Sale Sharks and Ben Vellacott not registered for Europe, the return of the two senior scrum-halves from injury is a timely one.

Heinz will start and is named as captain with Laidlaw, who last played for Gloucester in mid-January, named amongst the replacements.

In addition to Heinz’s return, there is one other change to the back-line with David Halaifonua replacing Charlie Sharples, Jonny May moving from the left wing to the right to accommodate the Tongan international.

In the pack, Tom Savage comes in for Mariano Galarza while Jacob Rowan and Ben Morgan both return in the back row for Lewis Ludlow and Freddie Clarke respectively.

The Stade Marcel Deflandre is familiar territory for Gloucester; it’s the fourth time the Cherry and Whites will have played there since 2010, and both teams won their respective home games in the pool stages of this year’s competition.

Director of Rugby David Humphreys is fully aware that a tough game lies ahead.

“It’s obviously a huge game, any semi-final is one that you want to be part of at this stage of the season. We also know the huge challenge that La Rochelle are going to bring having played them twice this season.

“When you look at their record, I think until last weekend they had 12 consecutive wins in the Top 14, that shows the quality of team that they have. They’ve rotated throughout the competition but, whatever team they put out, they’ll be unbelievably competitive.

“We know them well having played them this season, but our focus as we always say has been very much on what we’ve done over the past four weeks. Huge credit to the coaches for the changes that we’ve made and also the players – we’re 20 seconds and one scrum away from played four, won four.

“We feel we’re in a good place, we’ve been scoring some good tries and playing some good rugby. I think we’re all very excited about going to La Rochelle as the underdogs and almost with much less pressure than previously.”

Gloucester Rugby: 15. Tom Marshall; 14. Jonny May, 13. Henry Trinder, 12. Mark Atkinson, 11. David Halaifonua; 10. Billy Burns, 9. Willi Heinz (capt); 1. Josh Hohneck, 2. Richard Hibbard, 3. John Afoa; 4. Tom Savage, 5. Jeremy Thrush; 6. Ross Moriarty, 7. Jacob Rowan, 8. Ben Morgan

Replacements: 16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Paddy McAllister, 18. Yann Thomas, 19. Mariano Galarza, 20. Lewis Ludlow, 21. Greig Laidlaw, 22. Billy Twelvetrees, 23. Charlie Sharples

Unavailable for selection:

Gareth Evans, Callum Braley, Matt Scott, Andy Symons, Henry Purdy

Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 27 May at Twickenham are now on sale. If you want to have an unforgettable day out at club rugby’s best Cup Final then click here for tickets.

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