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 have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
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.
Having named an unchanged starting XV for the past three Aviva Premiership games, Gloucester Rugby ring the changes and retain only five players for Thursday's visit of Stade Rochelais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 7:45pm).