Gloucester v Zebre preview: Cherry and Whites begin title defence
- Reigning champions Gloucester welcome Zebre to Kingsholm in their European Challenge Cup opener: 15:15 kick-off
- World Player of the year nominee Greg Laidlaw among the replacements for the hosts
- Jeremy Thrush set to make Gloucester bow
- Trio of former Cherry and White stars in Zebre’s starting XV
Gloucester begins the defence of their European Challenge Cup when they face Zebre at Kingsholm on Saturday.
All black front row Jeremey Thrush is finally set to make his Gloucester debut after his Rugby World Cup winning campaign while World Player of the Year nominee Greg Laidlaw is amongst the replacements.
Jacob Rowan will lead the side out in front of the Shed, and is no stranger to the responsibility after skippering Yorkshire Carnegie for several years prior to joining Gloucester. He also for a time led the England U20s.
Henry Trinder is among the replacements and set to make his long-awaited return from injury, having been ruled out with injury since February.
Gloucester director of rugby David Humprehys told BBC Sport: “The European Rugby Challenge Cup was an important competition for us last year and winning it was due reward for all the hard work that had gone in.
“For us, this is an opportunity to be the first club to retain the Challenge Cup. That’s what we’re looking to do but, in order to do that, a home quarter-final is important and we have to get off to a winning start.”
Meanwhile, for Zebre, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini and Marco Bortolami will all be making their return to their old stomping ground.
Zebre have been improving in recent weeks in the Guinness Pro 12, picking up some crucial wins at the lower end of the division, but to come to Kingsholm and win is a step too far. This Gloucester side is strong, despite a heavy defeat last time out, and should pick up the victory in front of the Shed. Gloucester by 10.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gloucester: Billy Burns
Once again Gloucester have turned to 21-year-old Billy Burns to deliver on the big occasion, picking him to start in their European Cup defence. The fly-half has yet another chance to show why he is becoming a big player for Gloucester and with a strong back line around him, he has the weapons to call upon to get the best out of his side. His kicking will be important in this one to pin the Italians back.
Zebre: Marco Bortolami
The 35-year-old lock was a favourite at Gloucester during his spell between 2006-10 and will be back to show that he hasn’t lost his talent. The captain in an important player for his side, leading by example to get the best out of the players around him.
Gloucester: Cook; McColl, Meakes, Atkinson, Purdy; Burns, Braley; Thomas, Lindsay, Doran-Jones; Stooke, Thrush; Moriarty, Rowan (capt), Ludlow
Replacements: Dawidiuk, Murphy, Thomas, Hicks, Thomas, Laidlaw, Trinder, Thorley
Zebre: Palazzani, Berryman, Bisegni, Pratichetti, Sarto, Padovani, Violi, Lovotti, D’Apice, Chistolini, Bernabo, Bortolami (capt), Sarto, Meyer, Ferrarini
Replacements: Fabiani, de Marchi, Ceccarelli, Biagi, Caffini, Burgess, Toniolatti, Canna