Tom Palmer, one of English rugby's brightest young prospects, is expected to make his comeback from serious injury this afternoon. The 24-year-old second-row forward, sidelined since last summer due to a knee problem, has been named among Leeds's replacements for today's Zurich Premiership meeting with Gloucester at Headingley.
"We are delighted to have Tom back in the squad this week," Leeds's director of rugby, Phil Davies, said. "Tom has had a tough time, but he will be even more determined to make an impact now. He has done everything that has been asked of him by the medical team, and I'm sure that when he gets on the pitch he will be quick to get back to his best."
Capped as a replacement against the United States in 2001, Palmer is highly rated by the England coach, Clive Woodward, who will monitor his progress.
Davies, meanwhile, is under no illusions about the threat posed by Gloucester, even though they have lost their England and Lions tighthead prop Phil Vickery to a rib injury sustained during last weekend's Heineken Cup victory over Bourgoin. "It will be an extremely tough encounter," said Davies. "We know they possess the firepower to blow you off the park if you are not on your game.
"They were the best team during the regular season last year, and they have managed to get themselves into a good position despite being without three crucial players during the World Cup."
Gloucester's director of rugby, Nigel Melville, has named James Simpson-Daniel on the wing and Andy Gomarsall at scrum-half in his starting line-up, despite both appearing for an England XV at Twickenham yesterday.
Wasps have sold all the grandstand seats at Causeway Stadium for today's Premiership game against Saracens. World Cup heroes Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey feature in the champions' line-up, but Stuart Abbott, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley are all unavailable, together with the Saracens trio of Richard Hill, Kyran Bracken and Taine Randell.
"The reality for us is that we are going to have to be absolutely at our best, because Wasps are one of the form teams in the Premiership and Europe at the moment," said Saracens' coach, Rod Kafer.