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."
Speaking with the local media before the Gloucester team set off on the long trip north to Newcastle, Director of Rugby David Humphreys discussed his team selection and stated that Friday night's meeting will be a challenging one.
Speaking to the local media on Thursday, Matt Kvesic was looking forward to the trip to Newcastle Falcons, and the captain is looking to lead from the front with plenty for the Cherry and Whites to work on.
Gloucester saw a 12-0 lead overturned by Harlequins on Friday night as the visitors ran out 22-15 winners. After the game, Director of Rugby David Humphreys spoke about missed opportunities on the night.
Speaking to the local media on Thursday, James Hudson explained his excitement for tonight's game with Harlequins and that he is backing the Cherry and White squad to impress during the next set of Aviva Premiership games.
Despite a dream start at Kingston Park, scoring a try after just 26 seconds, Gloucester couldn't capitalise against a dogged Newcastle Falcons side. Too many penalties were conceded and too many errors made as the Falcons prevailed 20-10.
There are three changes to Gloucester Rugby's starting line-up for Friday evening's Aviva Premiership fixture away at Newcastle Falcons. Steve McColl will make his first Premiership start for the club.