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Gloucester look to close in on last eight

European Challenge Cup holders Gloucester will effectively book their place in this season's quarter-finals if they beat Kingsholm visitors Worcester on Thursday.

A repeat of last week's Pool Four bonus point success against the Warriors at Sixways would leave Gloucester closing in on the last eight after claiming 13 points from a possible 15 so far, and give them a tournament record 13 successive wins.

"This competition has special meaning for us, and we want to progress," Gloucester defence coach Jonny Bell said. "We are in the box seat at the moment.

"A top-two seeding for the quarter-final is important because there are some great teams in the tournament and securing a quarter-final at Kingsholm, in front of a passionate home support, is ultimately what we want to do.

"So we need to make sure that we control things well on Thursday and deliver, because Worcester are coming to Kingsholm to try and upset the apple cart.

"These back-to-back games are a challenge in that you know each other inside out. They will be looking at things from last week - areas they can attack - and we will also be looking at opportunities that we want to expose."

Lock Tom Savage will make his 100th appearance for Gloucester, with rugby director David Humphreys making 10 changes from the side that toppled Worcester 34-22 six days ago.

Behind the scrum, there are starts for Rob Cook, Charlie Sharples, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May and James Hook, while switches up front see Savage, Yann Thomas, Darren Dawidiuk, Nicky Thomas and Matt Kvesic all called up.

Worcester, meanwhile, show five changes - all in the forwards - with the likes of Ben Sowrey, Mike Daniels and Tevita Cavubati all featuring.

Warriors head coach Carl Hogg said: "Playing back-to-back allows us to see what we've learned from last Thursday night and to see if we can apply those lessons into this week's game.

"The endeavour, energy and intensity this group has shown in the competition has been great.

"It's just whether we can be more accurate in our decision-making and processes, which will be key to the outcome on Thursday."

In Pool Three on Thursday, Cardiff Blues must follow up last week's impressive Arms Park triumph against Montpellier when they meet on French soil. Otherwise pool leaders Harlequins will have complete charge of the group.

Wales Under-20 centre Garyn Smith makes his European debut for the Welsh side, with scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, prop Gethin Jenkins, lock Lou Reed and number eight Manoa Vosawai also starting.

"If we can beat them (Montpellier) away, it probably comes down to a winner-takes-all against Harlequins in January, but we are fully aware of the task ahead of us in France," Blues head coach Danny Wilson said.

"To go and beat the squad that Montpellier have at their place will be a big ask, but we have made good strides in recent weeks to get a far better performance."


From Belfast Telegraph