The teams have been named for tomorrow’s all English semi-final in the Challenge Cup clash at Kingsholm.
Both Johan Ackermann and Dean Richards have named strong sides ahead of tomorrow's European playoff. Gloucester will enjoy home advantage and the confidence of a comprehensive victory over Harlequins the previous week. With Tom Marshall and Ruan Ackermann both returning to the Cherry and Whites starting lineup, Newcastle will have to ensure their forward pack can outmanoeuvre a physical Gloucester eight as they did against Sale Sharks last weekend.
The Falcons themselves welcome back Maxime Mermoz and Josh Matavesi in the centres, forcing Chris Harris to shift out to the right wing. On the opposite side of the pitch, 23-year-old Zach Kibirige retains his starting jersey from the last two European games, preferred ahead of the eye-catching Adam Radawan, who will look to feature from the bench.
Ryan Burrows enjoys a rare start at number eight after moving to the Falcons from Yorkshire Carnegie last February. Falcons will also head into the game with a victory to their backs but will have to endure one of the most hostile environments in English rugby with a couple of key players rested from the week before.
As the game reads on paper, Gloucester look the favourites to progress to the final, with minimal changes to their starting XV, home advantage and big names littering the team sheet. However, Falcons have demonstrated so far this season that employing well known, star names in your lineup means very little, rocketing up to the top four in the Premiership.
A tremendously close encounter to call and one that should provide ample scope for running rugby in the April sun.
A backrow with both Jake Polledri and Ruan Ackermann is going to give Falcons plenty to deal with on the deck and around the park. Without Ally Hogg, Mark Wilson or Will Welch in the starting lineup, this could cause some issues.
Josh Matavesi is going to give Gloucester's defence plenty to be worried about. The Fijian's powerful carrying game, menacing step, for a big man, and the creative skills of a fly-half, the Falcons inside centre is a triple threat, causing Premiership sides headaches aplenty so far this season.
Newcastle look to be the better of the two sides when it comes to dealing with adverse situations and it could see this type of steely attitude that seals a victory. Gloucester are yet to fully relinquish a few shreds of the inconsistency that has plagued them over the last few years.
For my money, I'll take Newcastle by 8.
Although this could just as easily be a narrow Gloucester victory. If Falcons hit form, they'll put plenty of scores over the home side, if Gloucester can get all their cylinders firing, they will still have some job on their hands securing the victory against a stubborn Newcastle outfit.