By Adam Ellis
Johan Ackermann has named his squad to lead Gloucester’s charge towards Challenge Cup glory at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao on Friday evening.
The Aviva Premiership side take on Cardiff Blues in the Basque region’s largest city and will have Ed Slater braced to lift the trophy should they get the better of their Welsh counterparts.
Slater will lead the Cherry & Whites in the absence of scrum-half Willi Heinz, who has been out since mid-April due to a Grade 2 calf strain, and Ackermann will field close to a full strength team after resting 11 players for the trip to Saracens last weekend in the league.
Looking to repeat their 2015 success when a 19-11 win over Edinburgh saw Gloucester lift the trophy at Twickenham, Ruan Ackermann shifts in from the flank to start at number 8. That means Ben Morgan drops out of the XV to the replacements’ bench.
Previewing the game, head coach Ackermann complimented Cardiff for reaching the final in what will be Wilson’s last game before leaving for a coaching post at Wasps next season.
“Obviously, we’ve had two disappointments in the past two weeks. But, if you look at the Challenge Cup in isolation, we’ve played well, except against Pau, and got into the quarter-finals which was a game which stood out for me because the guys did well to give us that home semi-final.
“We’ve overcome that hurdle and given ourselves the chance in the Final, and hopefully the players will embrace this and put in a good performance to give ourselves an opportunity to lift the trophy and make everybody proud of the season.
“Cardiff are deservedly in the Final. They’re a team with a lot of threats – a very good loose trio and a very good back line.
“They’re a side who will fight for everything and I think it will be a great final between two sides that play a decent brand of rugby.”
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) May 10, 2018
Gloucester team to play Cardiff Blues in the Challenge Cup final in Bilbao, San Mames Stadium (Friday, 20:00)
15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Trinder, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Callum Braley; 1 Josh Hohneck, 2 James Hanson, 3 John Afoa, 4 Ed Slater (Capt), 5 Mariano Galarza, 6 Jake Polledri, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 8 Ruan Ackermann
16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Andy Symons, 23 Tom Hudson