GLOUCESTER Rugby's head coach Dean Ryan has given his club's growing involvement with the Pertemps Bees a glowing endorsement and believes it is crucial in the development of players at both clubs.
Ryan was speaking after Gloucester Rugby announced a formal link with the National One side - skippered by former Kingsholm lock Mark Cornwell - that will see a number of players go on loan from Gloucester throughout the coming season.
The project has already paid handsome dividends for both clubs. Early last season, both Ryan Lamb and Luke Narraway spent time at Sharmans Cross Road to gain first team experience and returned to Kingsholm later in the year to make vital contributions to Gloucester's European Challenge Cup success.
Lamb then joined up with the England Under-21 party for the World Championships, while Narraway was a member of the England Saxons Churchill Cup squad.
"We have already got first class evidence of the success of this scheme following the contributions guys like Ryan Lamb and Luke Narraway made for us last season," Ryan told <http://www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk/
"I am certain that the exposure to senior rugby with the Bees helped their development substantially. It provides game-time and match fitness and is an avenue we want to explore further.
"We have a number of young players like Dean Miller and Dan Tuohy who will benefit massively from this arrangement. Having someone like Mark Cornwell involved with the Bees this season is a huge bonus because he has first-hand experience of what makes a top Premiership player.
"It can help fast-track development of these guys and at the same time offer Pertemps some quality players."
Gloucester also anticipate full-back Jon Goodridge, stand-off Brad Davies and prop Terry Sigley being involved in the scheme so regular first team players retain their match fitness when not involved in the Guinness Premiership.
Phil Maynard, Director of Rugby at Pertemps Bees, added: "We are pleased to be able to strengthen our links with Gloucester.
"We have played our part in developing the likes of Ryan Lamb and Luke Narraway in the past two seasons and our partnership with Gloucester adds depth and experience to our first team squad.
"We are particualrly pleased to be able to welcome Terry Sigley back on loan. Terry was a key member of the side that took us to the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup two years ago and to fourth place in National One.
"We encouraged him to try his hand with Gloucester and he will come back to us a better player having had two seasons of Premiership rugby."
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).