Gloucester on the hunt for European Challenge Cup history
Gloucester boss David Humphreys wants his players to target European Challenge Cup history in this season's tournament.
No team has won the trophy twice in succession, but that will be Gloucester's aim during a 20-team competition that also features their Aviva Premiership rivals Harlequins, Sale Sharks, Worcester, London Irish and Newcastle, in addition to French challengers like Brive, Castres, Montpellier and Grenoble.
Italian outfit Zebre are first up for Gloucester at Kingsholm on Saturday, with New Zealand international lock Jeremy Thrush making his debut in a much-changed team captained by flanker Jacob Rowan that also features Wales international back-row forward Ross Moriarty.
"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," rugby director Humphreys said.
"For us, this is an opportunity to be the first club to retain the Challenge Cup.
"That is 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.
"The fact that they (Zebre), over the course of the past month or so, have beaten Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh shows that they have improved. They have recruited well and brought in some experienced international players.
"As is always the case, it will be very competitive early on. We will have to keep our composure and be sensible with our decision-making."
Worcester are in the same group as Gloucester, and they face a Sixways appointment with La Rochelle on Saturday. Back-row forward Matt Cox is the only player retained in Warriors' starting XV from last weekend's league win against Newcastle.
"We said that we wanted some consistency in the first block of four Premiership games, but now it's a chance for some of the players who worked equally hard to get their chance," Worcester head coach Carl Hogg said.
"The key thing is that we perform as a team, and it's key that those who haven't played channel their intent in the right way. It will be an exciting fixture."
Elsewhere, London Irish hand debuts to centre Johnny Williams and flanker Joe Trayfoot for the Madejski Stadium visit of Agen in Pool Five, while the Challenge Cup's first Russian contenders - Enisei-STM - face a debut fixture at home to Connacht in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia on Saturday.
The Connacht players have been in Krasnoyarsk for most of this week following a nine-hour flight, coping with average daily temperatures of minus seven degrees.
"I think it is expected to be about minus 12 degrees on Saturday afternoon, although I think it is meant to feel about minus two degrees because there is no wind," Connacht fly-half Jack Carty said.
"It is a bit different to what we are used to, but there is underground heating on the pitch so there should be nice conditions."