Gloucester coach George Skivington backs Lloyd Evans to fill Danny Cipriani void

A “hungry” Lloyd Evans has been backed to navigate Gloucester through the season following Danny Cipriani’s departure from Kingsholm.

Evans will return to the fly-half role against Heineken Champions Cup visitors Ulster on Saturday.

He has recovered from a head knock sustained in the Gallagher Premiership loss to Harlequins 12 days ago, reclaiming Gloucester’s number 10 shirt now permanently vacated by Cipriani.

Cipriani left Gloucester earlier this week, with the west country club also announcing Scotland international fly-half Adam Hastings’ signing for next term.

Evans, though, impressed in Gloucester’s comfortable win against Wasps last month, and he has been handed the tactical reins for a game Gloucester must win to have any chance of progressing from Pool B.

“Lloyd is coming along really well,” Gloucester head coach George Skivington said.

“He is young, hungry and is Gloucester through and through. He is really enjoying working with Alex King (Gloucester attack coach) and developing his game.

Bath v Gloucester – Gallagher Premiership – Recreation Ground
Bath v Gloucester – Gallagher Premiership – Recreation Ground

“He had a great game against Wasps, and he is here for the future. He is doing a great job.

“We are lucky to have Lloyd and George (Barton) coming through, and it puts us in a good spot.

“Lloyd hasn’t had a huge amount of exposure, and both he and George will, going forward.”

Evans’ selection is among a number of changes from the side beaten 55-10 by Lyon last weekend, with other starters including Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit and number eight Ruan Ackermann.

Skivington added: “We’ve got a good few injuries, and we are managing it the way we think is best.

“We are a positive club, and we are building the way we think we should build and testing ourselves how we think we should test ourselves.

“I think this season is unique. You lose the international players for a hell of a lot more time than you would normally, and every club is dealing with different scenarios.”

Like Gloucester, Northampton and Sale Sharks lost their opening European fixtures and have effectively reached a point of no return.

Dublin-bound 🇮🇪

It's a @ChampionsCup 50 for the skipper @alex_waller this weekend 🙌

— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) December 18, 2020

Northampton face a Herculean task against four-time European champions Leinster in Dublin on Saturday, while Sale host Edinburgh.

Saints boss Chris Boyd makes eight changes from the side beaten at home by Bordeaux-Begles last time out, including a start at fly-half for George Furbank.

Furbank replaces Wales international Dan Biggar, who has a knee injury, with other starters including full-back Ryan Olowofela, prop Paul Hill and lock Alex Moon.

Sale head coach Paul Deacon makes 11 changes for Edinburgh’s visit to the AJ Bell Stadium, including scrum-half Faf de Klerk and full-back Sam James being handed starts, while other Saturday games see the Dragons heading to Bordeaux and Munster visiting Clermont Auvergne.

Sale v Bristol – Gallagher Premiership – AJ Bell Stadium
Sale v Bristol – Gallagher Premiership – AJ Bell Stadium

Sunday’s Champions Cup action is key for two English hopefuls – Bristol and Harlequins.

Bristol, beaten in an 89-point thriller by Clermont last weekend, face their rugby director Pat Lam’s former team Connacht in Galway, when they will again be without injured centre Semi Radradra.

Lam said: “We have made it difficult to get through, but it doesn’t mean you stop trying, because in rugby and sport you never know what is around the corner.

“I would say, certainly, if you get two losses, you are not going through.

“For us and Connacht, and all the teams that lost in the first round, it’s all on the line this week. It is finals rugby already.”

Quins, meanwhile, host last season’s beaten Champions Cup finalists Racing 92, knowing that defeat would probably mean an early exit from the competition.