European Challenge Cup: Gloucester recall big guns for final

David Humphreys makes nine changes as the Cherry and Whites look to win their second European title at the Twickenham Stoop

Gloucester Rugby have recalled their big guns for their European Challenge Cup final against Edinburgh at the Stoop on Friday.

Director of rugby David Humphreys has made nine changes from the side that narrowly defeated Newcastle Falcons 42-40 last week as the Cherry and Whites look to repeat their 2006 European success in south-west London.

We know that we’ll be playing against a highly motivated and highly organised Edinburgh side this weekend, which will require us to be at our very best to be successful.

David Humphreys

Experienced internationals James Hook and Greig Laidlaw return at outside-half and scrum-half, respectively, in place of Billy Burns and Dan Robson, who drop to the bench, with former Australia 7s international Bill Meakes returning at outside centre.

Try-scoring hero Charlie Sharples continues at full-back with Jonny May and Henry Purdy on the wings, while Billy Twelvetrees, who scored two tries against the Falcons in the Aviva Premiership last week, captains the side from inside centre.

Gloucester have gone eight games unbeaten in Europe this season, a feat they also achieved on their way to the Stoop in 2005/06, but had home advantage to help them through tough quarter-final and semi-final wins over Connacht and Exeter Chiefs earlier this month.

And Humphreys, who was coached by Edinburgh boss Alan Solomons during his time at Ulster, knows that the final will be another tough encounter against a well-drilled side looking to become the first Scottish club to taste European glory.

“We probably didn’t expect to get to this stage this year, but we know the quality that is within this group and, on its day, this team can compete with anybody,” Humphreys said.

“Being involved in the final is great, but we want to win the final.

“We’re evolving and are better than we were, but Alan Solomons has done a similar job at Edinburgh.

“They’re competing in the PRO12 and for a Champions Cup spot, as well as making the final like us.

“We know that we’ll be playing against a highly motivated and highly organised Edinburgh side this weekend, which will require us to be at our very best to be successful.”

With Edinburgh’s forwards proving to be dominant against Newport Gwent Dragons and Zebre in recent weeks as Solomons opted not to rest his frontline troops, it is no surprise that the bulk of the Gloucester’s changes come up front after a lighter workload last week.

Former All Blacks tighthead prop John Afoa returns to the front row along with Nick Wood at loosehead, and Wales hooker Richard Hibbard, which means Sila Puafisi, Yann Thomas and Darren Dawidiuk have to make do with places on the bench.

In the engine room, Tom Palmer and Tom Savage resume their partnership after a rest last time out with Argentina lock Mariano Galarza providing cover from the bench.

In the back row, flankers Ross Moriarty and Matt Kvesic keep their places with Gareth Evans coming in at number eight for Sione Kalamafoni, who drops to the bench.

Full-back Steve McColl, a former Edinburgh academy and Scotland U20 player, also starts on the bench.

Gloucester Rugby: Charlie Sharples; Jonny May, Bill Meakes, Billy Twelvetrees (captain), Henry Purdy; James Hook, Greig Laidlaw; Nick Wood, Richard Hibbard, John Afoa; Tom Savage, Tom Palmer; Ross Moriarty, Matt Kvesic, Gareth Evans

Replacements: Darren Dawidiuk, Yann Thomas, Sila Puafisi, Mariano Galarza, Jacob Rowan; Dan Robson, Billy Burns, Steve McColl.

Edinburgh: Greig Tonks; Dougie Fife, Sam Beard, Andries Strauss, Tim Visser; Phil Burleigh, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Anton Bresler, Ben Toolis, Mike Coman (captain), Roddy Grant, Cornell du Preez.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Rory Sutherland, John Andress, Fraser McKenzie, Hamish Watson; Nathan Fowles, Tom Heathcote, Tom Brown.

Referee: Jerôme Garces (FFR)

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