PHYSICAL young lock Elliott Stooke will lead the charge of talented youngsters primed to prove their frontline Gloucester promise, believes Carl Hogg.
Gloucester assistant coach Hogg has backed second-row Stooke and a clutch of other Kingsholm youngsters to set a high standard for exciting careers ahead at Northampton tomorrow.
The Cherry and Whites take on the Saints at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 3pm) in their penultimate LV=Cup group match.
Gloucester must see off Northampton and then defeat Bath at Kingsholm a week later to stand any chance of semi-final qualification.
Gloucester’s coaches have mixed up the side, handing a host of young talent the chance to shine in the East Midlands.
Evergreen flanker Andy Hazell returns after his 14-week ban, with Pete Buxton skippering the side from blindside.
New second-row recruit Lua Lokotui starts alongside 19-year-old Stooke in the engine room, with Jim Hamilton on Scotland duty and Will James suffering rib trouble.
Gloucester forwards coach Hogg said Evesham-raised Stooke typifies the young, talented and determined Cherry and Whites stars on show tomorrow – all of whom he believes can carve out long-term Kingsholm careers.
Hogg explained: “This is where these guys get their chance.
“It’s their opportunity to show what they can do.
“Elliott is a big, physical lad with a lot going for him and a lot ahead of him.
“He showed up well out in France and he is progressing extremely well in our Academy system.
“This is exactly the kind of game for developing players like him.
“They need to play – but they also need to play in testing situations, and that’s what this competition is all about.
“It will be exciting to see Elliott pair up with Lua, and that mixture of youth and experience should be a good blend.
“Guys like Elliott, they can handle all of this – but it is in games like this when they have the chance to prove it.”
Hartpury College wing Steph Reynolds has a chance to show his searing pace on the wing, while fit-again Ryan Mills will taste his first rugby for 218 days after summer knee surgery.
Martyn Thomas has a chance to impress at full-back, while up front props Yann Thomas and Thomas Heard have an opportunity to show their worth.
Northampton have named a strong line-up, with ex-Gloucester favourite Ryan Lamb leading the backline from fly-half.
Ben Foden and George Pisi will be the Saints’ most dangerous options behind the scrum, while Sanu Manoa and captain Phil Dowson will be threatening in the back-row.
NORTHAMPTON: Ben Foden, James Wilson, George Pisi, Luther Burrell, Tom May, Ryan Lamb, Martin Roberts, Alex Waller, Mike Haywood, Tom Mercey, Mark Sorenson, Christian Day, Samu Manoa, Phil Dowson (capt), Rhys Oakley. Replacements: Ross McMillan, Soane Tonga’uiha, Ethan Waller, James Craig, Ben Nutley, Lee Dickson, Stephen Myler, Tom Collins.
GLOUCESTER: Martyn Thomas, Steph Reynolds, Henry Trinder, Tim Molenaar, Shane Monahan, Ryan Mills, Dave Lewis, Yann Thomas, Koree Britton, Dario Chistolini, Lua Lokotui, Elliott Stooke, Pete Buxton (capt), Andy Hazell, Gareth Evans. Replacements: Tommaso d’Apice, Dan Murphy, Tom Heard, Tom Savage, Ross Moriarty, Jimmy Cowan, Mike Tindall, Rob Cook.