OLIVIER AZAM, Gloucester's talismanic hooker, has signed a two-year extension to his current contract that will keep him at Kingsholm until June 2009.
The former French international is in his second spell at Gloucester having initially spent 3 years at the club after making his debut in 2000 against Newcastle. He then returned home to his former side Montferrand (Clement-Auvergne) for 12 months before rejoining Dean Ryan's squad in 2004.
The 32-year-old, capped 10 times by his country, has made 106 appearances in total for Gloucester, scoring 16 tries. This season Azam has featured in 24 of the club's 29 matches to date.
"I am lucky to have been involved in a number of squads at Gloucester but the one Dean Ryan is assembling at the present time is the best I have seen," Azam told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk.
"To have the opportunity to be part of that for another two years is fantastic. Our current position in the Premiership shows the potential of this squad - as we continue to develop I really believe we can challenge consistently for the major trophies.
"I love the club, the stadium and playing in front of the supporters - it is a home to me and there is nowhere else I would rather be playing rugby."
Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan added: "Olivier offers a tremendous physical presence and is the perfect complement to our other options at hooker. This season we have seen him perform to as consistently high a level as at any time since he has been here.
"We have a squad built to take on the best in England and Europe and the experience of players like Olivier is crucial to that mix."
Earlier this month, Gloucester also announced the signing of England and British Lions hooker Andy Titterrell from Sale for next season.
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.
Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees praised his side's character after their comeback win against Bristol on Saturday. The Cherry and Whites overcame a 6-0 half time deficit to eventually win the game 26-18 and secure a bonus point victory.
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.