With a home quarter-final spot on the line, Gloucester Rugby make 11 changes to their starting line-up as they welcome Section Paloise to Kingsholm on Friday evening in the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Ben Morgan will make his 100th competitive appearance for the club.
Having defeated Gloucester 27-21 in the round one opener at the Stade du Hameau back in October, Pau are currently in top place in the pool with the Cherry and Whites just three points behind.
Both teams have already qualified for the knock-out stages, but the winner of the pool will secure a home quarter-final so there is plenty to play for on Friday evening.
Gloucester kept pace with Pau at the top of the table by defeating Agen 45-24 last Friday in France, with only Jeremy Thrush, Ross Moriarty, Henry Purdy and Jason Woodward retaining their places in the starting line-up.
The changes reflect the strength in depth in the Gloucester squad at the moment and the subsequent competition for places with all the replacements having started against Agen, a fact not lost upon assistant coach Jonny Bell when he addressed the media this week.
“Selection has been difficult,” he said. “We’ve got a wealth of options in the back row, the midfield is exceptionally hard to choose as we’ve got such talented players. Across the board we’ve got a bit of strength in depth now which is really important.
“But Johan always stresses that, when he picks a team, he picks the team that he feels suits the way that we want to approach this game and the plan that we’ve put in place. That’s tough on some guys when they don’t get picked but that’s what you need to be successful.”
And the task in hand this weekend is Pau, who have every bit as much incentive to win as Gloucester.
Bell added: “Pau are coming here unbeaten in the tournament this year, which is a big factor for them. They know that if they do the business against us, they top the pool and get a home quarter-final.
“We know that if we win and we deny them any points, ultimately we get that home quarter-final and that’s what we’re after. I’d rather them be coming to us in this situation rather than having to go to Pau, but it’s going to be a tough match, one we’re looking forward to and the boys are excited about it.
“We have a good recent history in this competition and it’s one we like to get our teeth into and be successful in. It’s important to try and get a home quarter-final as there are a lot of good teams in this competition and travelling away gives your opponent a significant foot up.
“They’re a good side, they’ve got some quality players and we know they can play. They’re pretty balanced as a side – strong up front but with some good backs. We’re not taking them lightly at all, we know we’ll have to be at our best to beat them.”
15. Jason Woodward; 14. Henry Purdy, 13. Billy Twelvetrees, 12. Andy Symons, 11. Ollie Thorley; 10. Billy Burns, 9. Ben Vellacott; 1. Josh Hohneck, 2. Richard Hibbard, 3. John Afoa; 4. Tom Savage (capt), 5. Jeremy Thrush; 6. Ross Moriarty, 7. Lewis Ludlow, 8. Ben Morgan
16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Cameron Orr, 18. Fraser Balmain, 19. Ed Slater, 20. Freddie Clarke, 21. Jake Polledri, 22. Callum Braley, 23. Owen Williams
Unavailable for selection:
Willi Heinz, Paddy McAllister, Val Rapava Ruskin, Jacob Rowan, Matt Scott, Charlie Sharples