Califano comes in for Gloucester’s Bristol match

Guinness Premiership leaders Gloucester have been forced into changes ahead of tomorrow’s west country derby against Bristol at Kingsholm.

Despite winning 20-13 away to Newcastle two days before Christmas, head coach Dean Ryan has made key alterations for the sell-out Kingsholm clash.

Up front, Carlos Nieto is replaced by Christian Califano at tight-head, Luke Narraway switches to number eight in place of Gareth Delve (knee) and Akapusi Qera returns at openside after recovering from a wrist injury.

In the backs, Rory Lawson returns at scrum-half in place of Gareth Cooper, who damaged a hamstring at Kingston Park and Willie Walker comes in at full-back in place of Iain Balshaw, who has a gashed knee.

Andy Titterrell is also ruled out which means Jeremy Paul comes into the squad for the first time since the end of November and there is also a recall for scrum-half Mike Prendergast.

“It is unfortunate we have players unavailable tomorrow but I don’t want that to detract from our preparation – it is up to us to go out and produce a performance – that is the only thing that matters,” head coach Dean Ryan said.

“These derby games are very special for the supporters and I think Kingsholm will be a magnificent sight tomorrow with a capacity crowd but from our point of view we approach this like any other game, we will be focused and ready for what will be a very intense occasion.

“We know Bristol are a very good side but it is up to us to get our game right and play well.”

Gloucester’s forwards have a tried and trusted look to them with Nick Wood and Olivier Azam packing down alongside Califano.

Marco Bortolami will skipper the side from the second row alongside Alex Brown, while Alasdair Strokosch, Qera and Narraway complete the back row as Gloucester look for their 16th successive home Premiership victory – their last home defeat was against Wasps in May 2006.

In the backs, Ryan Lamb, who has signed a new two-year contract extension, will partner Lawson at half-back, while Anthony Allen and Mike Tindall will be the centres.

James Simpson-Daniel, who will make his 100th Premiership appearance tomorrow, will line-up alongside Lesley Vainikolo and Walker in the back three.

Walker’s last start was in the number 10 shirt against the Dragons in the EDF Energy Cup in November but he came off the bench against Bourgoin a fortnight ago and scored a try in the second half.

“Tomorrow is about us producing a performance we can be proud of because this game is vital in its own right,” Ryan added.

“If we can do that then we are capable of beating teams but it is up to us – we must get it right.”

On the bench, hooker Paul, who has made two starts in the EDF Energy Cup, comes into the Premiership squad for the first time this season, as does prop Jack Forster. Will James and Peter Buxton complete the forward options.

Prendergast and Chris Paterson (ribs) return to the squad and the final place is taken by centre Leon Lloyd.

GLOUCESTER (v Bristol, tomorrow 3pm):


Willie Walker, James Simpson-Daniel, Mike Tindall, Anthony Allen, Lesley Vainikolo, Ryan Lamb, Rory Lawson; Nick Wood, Olivier Azam, Christian Califano, Marco Bortolami (capt), Alex Brown, Alasdair Strokosch, Akapusi Qera, Luke Narraway. Reps: Jeremy Paul, Jack Forster, Will James, Peter Buxton, Mike Prendergast, Chris Paterson, Leon Lloyd.   

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