A buzzing Kingsholm will see the commencement of Round 8 of the Premiership when the Cherry & Whites host Exeter.
Last weekend, Gloucester managed to leave the Gtech Community Stadium with a valuable away win in the pocket, although they were made to work hard for their 1-point victory against a spirited London Irish outfit:
Meanwhile, Chiefs were unable to come out on the right side of the scoreboard last week as they fell victim to log-leaders, Saracens:
The promises to be a clash fuelled by significant motivation from two of the competition’s top current teams. As things stand, Gloucester and Chiefs find themselves level on log points (20), however, it is Chiefs who occupy third spot while the Cherry & Whites lie in fourth.
Gloucester Rugby Head Coach George Skivington has made four changes to the starting XV from their win over London Irish for this evening's clash.
Harry Elrington replaces last week's Player of the Match, Val Rapava-Ruskin at loose-head, who is away on England duty with Jack Singleton.
Santiago Socino, who scored two tries against Irish and Fraser Balmain complete the front row.
Freddie Clarke remains in the second-row. Alongside Clarke, academy graduate Cam Jordan comes in for Matias Alemanno.
In the back-row, club captain Lewis Ludlow starts at open-side, with Ruan Ackermann moving from number 8 to blind-side and Ben Morgan replacing Jordy Reid.
Charlie Chapman and last Friday's match winner Adam Hastings start as half-backs with Giorgi Kveseladze and Chris Harris in the centre.
With Jonny May out injured, Santi Carreras moves out to the wing and Lloyd Evans comes in at full-back. Louis Rees-Zammit starts on the right wing.
On the bench, Henry Walker, Kirill Gotovtsev and Tom Seabrook are in line for their first Gallagher Premiership minutes of the season.
Ciaran Knight, Matias Alemanno, Albert Tuisue, Ben Meehan and Jack Reeves complete the replacements.
Just days after coming unstuck at the death to league leaders Saracens, Rob Baxter’s side head to Kingsholm looking not only to get their season back on track at the first attempt, but at the same time claim yet more bragging rights across the Westcountry.
Having already seen off near neighbours Bristol Bears on a Friday night, the Devonians will be hoping to replicate that performance with another big performance on the big stage.
Gloucester, however, are themselves in a rich vein of form and buoyed by their own late victory at London Irish last time out, they will head into this latest tussle with real confidence according to Chiefs head coach, Ali Hepher.
“It’s always a great place to go, especially on a Friday night,” said Hepher. “It’s a traditional rugby club and one of those fixtures you always look for at the start of the season. Look, it’s going to be two good sides really going at it. They’ve only lost once this season and, a bit like us, they’ve been involved in a couple of tight finishes this season.
“When you look at them, they have a clear way of playing. Their maul has always been a threat and it provides them with a platform to score tries and create space. The jackal threat as well gets them penalties, which they go to the corner with, so we’ve got to make sure we’re right on our game.
“At the same time, there are things we can exploit and it will be up to us to make sure we make the most of our opportunities.”
The Chiefs showed last weekend that they are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best sides and, on another day, could easily have been the team that took the first scalp of Saracens this season.
“Tough margins, they always are in the top games,” added Hepher. “Looking at the game, we started very well, but we needed to be a bit more clinical in what we did. Also, the fightback we showed – especially when we were nine points down in the second half – playing into the wind and rain, was again very good.
“A lot of what we did out there was pleasing and we wouldn’t have had to do much more to have won that game. Like any game, there are learns to take from it, especially for some of those younger players and the new guys, but overall the guys put in a lot of effort and the attitude was right up there, which is all we can ask for as coaches.”
Ahead of kick-off, the visitors have been forced into change. England duty means they are denied the services of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell, Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade, the latter of whom was called up on Monday having initially missed out on Eddie Jones’ selection plans.
However, fellow internationals Christ Tshiunza (Wales) and Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray (both Scotland) are available and will take their place in the match-day squad, which includes a starting debut for Australian international Scott Sio.
He is one of three changes to the Chiefs pack, joining skipper Jack Yeandle in the front-row, while Lewis Pearson is added to the back-row in place of Tshiunza, who is named on the bench.
Behind the scrum, Rory O’Loughlin comes into centre in place of Slade, whilst the absence of Nowell is countered with the return to fitness of Josh Hodge, who has happy memories of scoring at Kingsholm back in March 2021.
- Gloucester have beaten an average of just 12.4 defenders per match – the lowest figure in the league. Their opponents this weekend, on the other hand, have averaged the highest (22.7).
- The Cherry-and-Whites have stolen 2.6 opposition lineouts per match in the five matches they’ve played this season. This is the highest average in the league.
- In round seven, Ruan Ackermann made more carries than any other forward (14) and crossed the gainline with 12 of these. No other player crossed the advantage line more last weekend.
- Louis Rees-Zammit has been a busy defender on the wing this season. He has made more chase tackles (16) and tackles on the outside edge (five) than any other player.
- In life there are few certainties. In the Premiership though, Exeter Chiefs making the most carries at the weekend is a sure thing. Yet again, the Chiefs worked tirelessly in attack – making a round-high 145 carries against Saracens. This huge total was still below their average of 158.8 per match.
- The tenacity of Exeter Chiefs in the carry is reflected by the fact that they are also top of the league for metres in contact (1,075).
- Jack Nowell reminded us of his signature style of play at the weekend, busying himself off his wing and using his physicality to beat defenders. He made a round-high 17 carries and produced an equally league-topping 31 metres in contact in round seven. He also beat more than double the number of defenders that any other player managed in the round (nine, next best was four).
- Henry Slade conceded a round-high five turnovers against Saracens last weekend.
- Gloucester have only won one of their six most recent tangles with Exeter Chiefs: at Kingsholm in February 2020.
Having only lost one match compared to the Chiefs’ two this season, Gloucester are currently placed in third in the Gallagher Premiership table whilst Exeter Chiefs are eighth. Gloucester have also won their four most recent league matches at home.