MARCO BORTOLAMI, one of the most influential and respected players in the Guinness Premiership, has pledged his future to Gloucester Rugby until 2010.
The Italian national captain, a blazing success in his debut season last year after switching from Narbonne, has signed a two-year extension to his existing deal to cement his place at Kingsholm for two further seasons.
Bortolami (27) was made Italy's youngest captain in 2003 when he led the Azzurri into battle against the All Blacks, following his debut as a 20-year-old. He has since won 64 international caps and has developed into one of the best locks in the world.
"What can I say - Gloucester is my new home, my new life and my passion - for me to be able to stay for another two years is fantastic," he said.
"We made great progress last season and now it is up to us to build on it and create something very special in Gloucester's history.
"I believe in what we are trying to achieve and in Dean Ryan's philosophy for the team. We are young, we are ambitious and we want to be successful."
Bortolami's signature follows hot on the heels of a number of key contract extensions already made by Ryan as he creates stability in his playing squad. Alex Brown, Andy Hazell, James Simpson-Daniel and Will James have all re-signed since the beginning of the season.
"When Marco arrived at the club from Narbonne we believed he had the qualities to become a world class second row - not only as a player but also as an individual - and it delights me we have such a player within our squad," said head coach Dean Ryan.
"The re-signings show we are taking great care of this squad over the long-term. We are trying to build something that will create a legacy at Gloucester Rugby and Marco is central to that - I am absolutely delighted we have extended his contract. It is crucial for the club and its progress."
Gloucester travel to Oyonnax for the second round of the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Saturday evening, and Director of Rugby David Humphreys is expecting a big test from the French side, feeling that their league position doesn't reflect their recent performances.
Speaking exclusively to Gloucester Rugby TV, Matt Kvesic explained that his decision to extend his contract at Kingsholm was a simple one and that he was hugely excited for the future in Cherry and White.
Speaking after the 55-0 win over CA Brive, Jonny May told GRTV that he's delighted that the team's hard work is starting to pay dividends but was equally happy for his friend and team mate, Charlie Sharples, on what was a big night for his fellow winger.
Speaking to the local media this week, David Humphreys insisted that Gloucester are looking forward to kicking off the new European Rugby Challenge Cup against Brive on Thursday evening, although an unfamiliar opponent and a five day turnaround will pose a challenge.