Preview: Bath v Gloucester

England star Iain Balshaw will return to the Gloucester number 15 shirt for the Guinness Premieship west country derby match against Bath at the Rec on Saturday.

Balshaw has missed the last two victories against Newcastle and Harlequins because of a groin injury but starts in place of Willie Walker as Dean Ryan’s side look to build on the most impressive recent run in the Guinness Premiership.

Balshaw will make his 15th appearance of the season against his former club tomorrow as Gloucester look to extend their five-match winning run dating back to the end of February.

However, they will make the trip to the Rec without lock Alex Brown who has still not recovered from nerve damage in his shoulder picked up against Quins.

“We worked exceptionally hard during the international period when we were without our senior internationals and have got ourselves into a position where we can really press for a top two place,” said Gloucester coach Dean Ryan.

“We have three games left but are just solely concerned with dealing with the here and now this weekend. Local derbies are always tense, tough affairs and I am sure tomorrow will be no different.

“Bath have an exceptionally good home record but we are thoroughly prepared for the challenge – it should be a fantastic occasion and one we will relish.”

“Iain is a massive threat as a broken field runner and we need to get him into positions where he can be a danger,” Ryan added.

“He is an international-quality player, we are in the run-in and to have that experience at this stage is crucial. We have selected a team purely for this match and I think it is very exciting.”

Because of Brown’s absence, Will James continues in the second row alongside skipper Marco Bortolami. In the front row, Nick Wood partners hooker Olivier Azam and tight-head Carlos Nieto.

The regular back row trio of Peter Buxton, Andy Hazell and James Forrester start together again.

On the bench, hooker Rob Elloway comes in for Mefin Davies because of family illness.

In the backs, Rory Lawson returns at scrum-half in place of Peter Richards and will partner Ryan Lamb at half-back. In the centre, Mike Tindall will return to his former club and will line-up alongside Anthony Allen, while James Simpson-Daniel, James Bailey and Balshaw complete the back-three.

On the bench, Adam Eustace, Jake Boer and Jack Forster complete the forward options alongside Elloway, while Richards, Walker and Mark Foster are the three-quarter options.

Meanwhile, Bath coach Steve Meehan has made just one change to his starting XV.

Lee Mears will start at hooker in place of Pieter Dixon, as the team aims to build on last Saturday’s comprehensive victory over Bristol in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup.

Form: Bath’s only win in their last five matches in the Guinness Premiership was 22-17 at home to Northampton on 10 March, although Bath did beat Bristol 51-12 on Saturday in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup to set up a semi-final tie with Saracens. Table-topping Gloucester are the “form” team of the Guinness Premiership with five successive wins and 21 league points in the process. Gloucester won their last away game 7-5 at Northampton on 3 March. Gloucester are going for a treble over Bath this season, having won 24-19 in the Premiership and 30-12 in the EDF Energy Cup at Kingsholm this season. Gloucester have never won at Bath in a league match, but have won two cup games at the Rec in 1971 and 2000.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Shaun Berne, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Tom Cheeseman, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe, 8 Isaac Feaunati, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 1 David Barnes
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Peter Short, 19 Jonny Faamatuainu, 20 Andy Williams,

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