GLOUCESTER'S British Lions and England full-back/wing Iain Balshaw has signed a new contract with the Guinness Premiership leaders until 2010.
Regarded as one of the most influential broken-field runners in the country, Balshaw's ability to link play from anywhere in the back three has been instrumental in Gloucester's charge to the top of the table this season.
The 29-year-old joined the club from Leeds Carnegie two seasons ago and in 38 appearances has scored 12 tries - including four in the Guinness Premiership this season. His career began and started to flourish at Bath and in 1999-2000 he scored 15 tries in 21 appearances.
It was during that remarkable scoring sequence that he burst onto the scene with England and he has since won 35 caps and was also part of the British Lions tour to Australia in 2001.
"I said when I joined Gloucester from Leeds that it was a place with massive potential and with the development the squad has gone through over the last 18 months, some outstanding signings and a fantastic structure, I am thrilled to have signed for another two years," Balshaw told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk
"The challenge is to constantly improve and be your best - we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can achieve and that is very exciting. The club is growing and I want to grow with it and take it as far as I can.
"I am confident that we can fulfil our ambitions over the long-term. That is going to take hard work and dedication but Dean Ryan and the coaching team are building something special, we are attracting some fantastic players and it is a great place to play rugby."
Gloucester's head coach Dean Ryan added: "I have been delighted with Balsh's contribution this season and I think we have seen the benefit of a really good pre-season and the confidence return to his game.
"He brings some outstanding attributes to our style of play. His running from deep provides a genuine cutting edge and his kicking game is excellent. I am really pleased a player of his quality has decided to stay with us for the long-term.
"We are on the cusp of something very special and to achieve it we need players of Iain's quality and I am delighted he has pledged his future to us."
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.
Speaking immediately after the game, skipper Willi Heinz thought that Gloucester had executed their game plan reasonably well and competed hard against Saracens. However, it wasn't enough but the squad will have plenty to work on this week ahead of the derby match against Bristol.
Gloucester may be coming off their best win of the season, the 38-16 victory over Wasps last weekend, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys admits that Sunday's trip to Saracens is an even tougher test.
Looking to try a new sport? Look no further than Walking Rugby as thanks to Gloucester Rugby you can come along and try out the fast-growing sport at taster sessions across the county, starting this Wednesday.
Gloucester return to European Rugby Challenge Cup action on Thursday evening with the visit of Stade Rochelais to Kingsholm (kick off 7:45pm). Early Bird ticket prices are available until 6:30pm on matchday.
Talk about a game of two halves. Things looked grim on Saturday as Gloucester trailed 0-6 to Bristol at half-time. However, Matt Scott's eighth try of the season got Gloucester off and running, and the visitors fell apart as the Cherry and Whites eased to a 26-18 bonus point Aviva Premiership win.