Preview: Worcester v Gloucester

Date published: March 11 2016

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Forwards Carl Kirwan and Niall Annett return to the Worcester's Warriors starting line-up for Saturday’s local derby with Gloucester at Sixways. 

Dean Ryan’s side will be chasing back-to-back Premiership wins after their away triumph at Newcastle Falcons last weekend.

Kirwan replaces the injured Dewald Potgieter in the back row next to skipper GJ van Velze and Phil Dowson, with Donncha O’Callaghan and Darren Barry continuing their partnership in the second row. 

Hooker Annett takes the place of Jaba Bregvadze, who is away on international duty with Georgia, to partner Val Rapava Ruskin and Nick Schonert in the front row.  

An unchanged backline sees top try-scorer Cooper Vuna link-up with Chris Pennell and Bryce Heem, while Wynand Olivier and Ryan Mills start in the centre.  

Fresh off the back of his man-of-the-match showing last time out, Francois Hougaard partners Tom Heathcote in the half-back combination. Ben Sowrey is recalled to the side among the replacements for the first time since January. 

Ryan said: “Local derbies are always slightly different games. There’s a little bit more tension and pressure as it’s a bigger occasion. 

“We’re starting to see some of the reward now for all of the players’ hard work. The Newcastle win gives us a catalyst to move on to the next game a bit quicker. You can get the same effort and performance but miss out on the last five minutes which has happened to us so many times and has a damaging effect into the next week.

“We’re very focused on getting a result this weekend. We were unlucky not to get something out of the game down there earlier in the season and we feel we’re a bit better this time around.”

Meanwhile, Gloucester loosehead prop Nick Wood will break Peter Buxton's record for competitive appearances in the professional era with 274 features, as well as becoming the first Gloucester player to make 200 Premiership appearances when he takes to the field this weekend.

Wood's return is one of three changes to the starting line-up that defeated Wasps at Kingsholm last weekend as he replaces the injured Paddy McAllister.

Also restored to the starting line-up are scrum-half Willi Heinz and winger David Halaifonua. They replace Greig Laidlaw (Scotland international duty) and Henry Purdy (injury) respectively.

The two teams meet for the fourth time this season, with Gloucester having won the first three encounters. The Cherry and Whites are also looking for their third Premiership victory in succession.

However, Defence Coach Jonny Bell told the local media that Gloucester are prepared to take on a Warriors outfit which is much improved from the last time they met.

"We know that we're up against a formidable opponent. I've analysed Worcester in detail and, from a defensive perspective, they have huge threats across the park.

"They're fresh off a good win away to a good side in Newcastle, so they'll be buoyant and they'll want to deliver at home this weekend. We know that we have to pitch up with our minds in the right place because this is going to be a really tough game.

"In a league that is particularly competitive, you need consistency because, if you drop a couple of games, you could find yourself well down the league. But I believe we are getting there in terms of consistency and the challenge this weekend is to front up and prove that this weekend.

"I would say they're definitely better. I would say that we're better. I think every team has improved. They've got a dangerous back three, a strong pack up front and a nice midfield who can play with the ball. They know how to get across the whitewash and it's our job to prevent that happening."

Form: After a run of eight successive Premiership defeats between November and February Worcester Warriors have now won two of their last three matches, against Sale and Newcastle. Worcester are going for back-to-back victories at Sixways for the first time for three months. Gloucester’s only reversal in their last five Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters was 12-25 at table-topping Saracens in Round 13. The Cherry and Whites have won just once on the road in the competition since the opening round: 15-11 at Bath on 5 February. The two clubs have already met on three occasions this season (twice in the European Challenge Cup) with Gloucester victorious on each occasion. The Warriors only victory over Gloucester in their last seven fixtures in all competitions was by a single point at Sixways in the Premiership in May 2014. 

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 GJ van Velze (c), 7 Carl Kirwan, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Na’ama Leleimalefaga, 18 James Johnston, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Sam Betty, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Andy Symons

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 David Halaifonua, 10 James Hook, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood
Replacements:16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Henry Trinder, 23 Steve McColl

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Sixways
Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, John Meredith
TMO: Rowan Kitt

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