GLOUCESTER Rugby's dynamic England international flanker Andy Hazell has been granted a Testimonial year by the club for the 2008-9 season.
He will follow in the foot-steps of two other leading forwards of recent seasons - Andy Deacon and Mark Cornwell - who have also been granted the prestigious honour by the Guinness Premiership club.
Hazell is Gloucester's longest serving player, having made his debut in 1997 under then head coach Richard Hill. He has since developed into one of the most durable, committed and brave forwards in the country, making 180 first team appearances in all competitions.
His relentless, combative style means he is a firm favourite with the Gloucester faithful and he has also represented England seven times.
"There are not many Gloucester players who have ever been granted a Testimonial year so to follow players like Andy Deacon and Mark Cornwell with this honour means a huge amount to me," Hazell told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk
"I am passionate about Gloucester and its rugby. When you grow up as a local kid in the local leagues, it was always a dream to play for Gloucester and I am very fortunate to have fulfilled that dream. There is plenty I still want to achieve in the game and I am relishing the start of the new season.
"This is just something very special and to be only the third player to ever receive one is a tremendous honour."
Last season, Hazell made 13 appearances on the openside flank and had it not been for injury, he would have already made more than 200 senior appearances for Gloucester.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
On a tough evening at Kingsholm, Gloucester could escape neither a suffocating Bath defence, nor the whistle of referee Greg Garner as six penalties and a penalty try paved the way to a 39-16 win for the visitors.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).