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."
Speaking to the local media this week, front row forward John Afoa spoke of the squad's targets for this weekend's European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Final with Cardiff Blues at Kingsholm. Despite taking on new opponents, the squad know the focus is on themselves to get the job done as knockout rugby kicks in.
Gloucester-Hartpury Women take on West Park Leeds Ladies in the final of the Intermediate Cup Final on Saturday. Head Coach Susie Appleby took time out to preview the game and chat about the future for the team.
Number eight Ben Morgan admitted that the 32-14 Aviva Premiership win over Bristol on Friday evening hadn't been pretty at times, but that the win was based on everyone in the squad remaining united and working for each other.
Previewing Friday evening's local derby at Bristol, Interim Head Coach Jonny Bell told the local media that Gloucester's preparations have gone well and that the whole squad is united in trying to finish the season on a high.
Speaking to GRTV this week, Acting Head Coach Jonny Bell spoke of his pleasure in the efforts and intensity in training from the squad after a tricky few weeks. The team were preparing for big games with Bristol and Cardiff in coming weeks.
Willi Heinz was understandably and visibly disappointed when he spoke to GRTV after the 27-30 home defeat to Harlequins, apologising to the home support as the game slipped away after seemingly having the game under control.
In the aftermath of the Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol, Interim Head Coach Jonny Bell was able to look forward to this weekend's European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues (Kingsholm, kick off 8:05pm).