GLOUCESTER'S head coach Dean Ryan is relishing the prospect of facing French powerhouses Biarritz, Welsh giants Cardiff and Italian side Calvisano in the 2008-09 Heineken Cup.
The Kingsholm club were drawn in Pool Six at the competition launch today and Ryan said: "We are involved in Europe's elite club competition and as such realised we would face sides of real calibre and quality.
"Biarritz are a hugely powerful and organised side, have a history in the competition that would be the envy of a lot of clubs and contested a final only three seasons ago. Their threat, particularly at home, is an obvious one.
"They have a tremendous pedigree and their home record is as good as anything in the competition. It will be a huge examination for us but one we will relish as we develop as a side.
Gloucester have never faced Biarritz in the Heineken Cup but have played Cardiff three times - once at the quarter-final stage in 2000-01 when they won 21-15 at Kingsholm and then again in the pool stages in 2004-05.
Gloucester won both encounters - 23-19 at home and then 23-16 at the Arms Park.
"There is obvious spice with an Anglo-welsh contest against Cardiff," Ryan added. "They are always unique occasions; they are a fantastic side who also have a real passion and understanding about this competition and I am sure the Heineken Cup will bring the best out of both teams.
"Both games will generate huge interest from the supporters, the rivalry is fierce and I think it will be a great advert for the competition.
"We have not faced an Italian side since we played Treviso in the pool stages in 2003-04 but Italian rugby is improving all the time, they are massively competitive at home and will relish the opportunity to take us on.
"I think we face a variety of opponents, some of which are new to us, and that will only add to the excitement."
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.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
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).