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.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
It's the first Gloucester-Bristol derby at Kingsholm in over eight years this Saturday (kick off 4:30pm) and, previewing the game with the local media this week, Defence Coach Jonny Bell stressed that, with both teams in the bottom half of the table, they both need the points.
Speaking to the local media this week, Gloucester front rower John Afoa knows the challenge ahead this week against Bristol, and calls on the Cherry and Whites to make the most of home advantage as a determined squad look to bounce back from a narrow loss to Saracens.
Tom Savage speaks to GRTV and the local media as Gloucester went down by 24-20 at Saracens on Sunday afternoon. The second row was disappointed with the result, despite a strong showing from the hosts.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.
Having named an unchanged starting XV for the past three Aviva Premiership games, Gloucester Rugby ring the changes and retain only five players for Thursday's visit of Stade Rochelais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 7:45pm).