Gloucester unleash their Bok on Chiefs
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENTS: Springbok second row Franco Mostert will make his first start for Gloucester on Friday.
Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann has made six changes to the starting line-up for the crucial Round Four Champions Cup encounter with Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium.
The South Africa international made his debut two weeks ago, as a late replacement in the Premiership win over Worcester, but was rested for the first part of the European double header between the West Country sides last week – a game Gloucester won 27-19 at Sandy Park.
The lock only joined up with the club after the November internationals, after Gloucester won favour with World Rugby in their protracted tug-of-war with the Lions for Mostert’s services.
The Cherry and Whites make three changes to the pack and three to the back line.
In the backs, Jason Woodward, Charlie Sharples and Billy Twelvetrees all return to the starting line-up.
In the forwards, in addition to Mostert making his full debut, Ed Slater comes into the second row and Gareth Evans will line up on the openside flank.
Ackermann knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to raise the bar this week if their are to repeat last week’s result.
“It will obviously be good for our campaign to back up last week with a win and give ourselves a possibility of progressing in the competition,” Ackermann said.
“But, having analysed the game, we know that it’s not going to be easy, there is still much for us to improve on and a lot of hard work we need to do. We also know that we’ll be up against a side who are very motivated to bounce back.
“We will have played each other three times in four weeks, and you have to tweak a few things but it’s a short turnaround.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us as a group because Exeter are a proud side, they won’t take last week’s result lightly and they will come highly motivated.”
Gloucester’s two other Springboks – prop Ruan Dreyer and flank Jaco Kriel – are on a long list of players unavailable for this game.
That list includes Ruan Ackermann, Mark Atkinson, Gareth Denman, Dreyer, Lloyd Evans, Todd Gleave, James Hanson, Kriel, Lewis Ludlow, Franco Marais, Tom Marshall, Jake Polledri, Val Rapava Ruskin, Will Safe, Henry Trinder, Ben Vellacott.
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Exeter coach Rob Baxter has some injury concerns of his own.
Last Saturday’s clash saw Ollie Atkins, Alex Cuthbert, Matt Kvesic, Henry Slade, Stu Townsend and Nic White all sustain issues during the contest and none of them will feature on Friday.
That means there are numerous changes to the Chiefs line-up.
Up front, Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis come into the front row, Sam Skinner is shunted from back-row to lock, while there are also starts for Sean Lonsdale and Tom Lawday.
Behind them, Jack Maunder gets the nod at scrum-half, Sam Hill and Ian Whitten form a new midfield pairing, while there are also new faces in the back three with Tom O’Flaherty and Joe Simmonds joining Santiago Cordero, who a week ago set a new European record of 17 defenders beaten in one game.
On a positive note, Olly Woodburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Toby Salmon and Jonny Hill are all edging to within touching distance of a return to full fitness.
Baxter says his Exeter Chiefs side must use the disappointment of their European campaign so far to make them a better side moving forward.
Hopes were high at the start of the season that the Devonians would really attack their rivals in this season’s Champions Cup.
However, that has not proved the case and after three rounds the Chiefs are still without a win and at bottom of Pool Two.
Baxter admits his side have struggled to hit top form in recent weeks, but feels a remedy is close at hand.
“First and foremost, we didn’t play well enough last week,” said Baxter.
“Some of the stuff we’ve addressed is whether we got up to the intensity we needed to be at over the course of those games coming out of the Premiership.
“We’ve had a good look at it, we’ve talked to the players about it, and I am not sure whether we were waiting for the Champions Cup to come round a little bit, without really going after those Premiership games and practicing being right at the level we need to be for Europe.
“It’s a really difficult balance and it’s not something yet we have got right as results are showing that. However, we do feel we are getting there and adjusting to situations as we go along.
“Sometimes, though, it’s the first time you deal with things where you learn the most.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had to deal with seven internationals being away and coming back just before the Champions Cup period.
“What we actually have to do is use the disappointment of the weekend to make us better as a team, because there are still three rounds left and 15 points to get.
“It does happen to a lot of sports teams, where you maybe draw breath or something happens that shocks you a little bit, but the story of every season gets told by which team bounce through that and use it as positively as they can. It’s those sides that use it as a driver to set some high standards and really improve in the following weeks and rest of the season.”
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Alex Seville, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Alex Craig, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Matt Banahan, 23 Tom Hudson.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Joe Simmonds, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Tom Lawday, 7 Don Armand, 6 Sean Lonsdale, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Wilhelm Van der Sluys, 21 Sam Maunder, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Phil Dollman.
Date: Friday, December 14
Venue: Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
Kick-off: 19.45 (1945 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Vincent Blasco Baqué (France), Cédric Marchat (France)
TMO: Denis Grenouillet (France)