ANDY HAZELL, the dynamic Gloucester flanker who has been voted players' player of the season twice in successive years, has signed a three-year contract extension at Kingsholm that will run until 2011.
The news, on the eve of the 2007/08 Guinness Premiership season, is of vast significance to Dean Ryan's squad as he attempts to build on last season's appearance in the Guinness Premiership final.
Hazell, who already had a year to run on his existing deal, is a talismanic figure at Kingsholm and will begin his 10th season with the club when Gloucester open their new campaign against Leeds next month.
"I have been very proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to represent my home-town club for so long and I am thrilled to have this chance to be involved in one of the most exciting times in Gloucester's history," Hazell told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk
"As a youngster growing up in the city, all I wanted to do was wear a Gloucester shirt - there is nothing like playing in front of a full and packed Kingsholm - so to know I can still do that is fantastic for me and my family.
"We are building something tremendously exciting at the club on and off the field I cannot wait to be a part of it again when the season starts. I think the signings that have been made by Dean Ryan show exactly where he wants the club to be and I am very excited about that prospect.
"There is competition for places, there is a real togetherness in the squad and the progression of the club is something we all want to be involved in."
The 29-year-old, who has won seven England caps, made his Gloucester debut in the 1997/98 season and has since made 167 appearances in all competitions and is now Gloucester's longest serving player.
His relentless style and commitment were key components in Gloucester's assault on Twickenham last season and head coach Ryan added:
"I think we are very fortunate to have a guy like Andy Hazell at the club - he is a fantastically dedicated, determined servant of Gloucester and to retain his services is great for us.
"A number of times last season I said we were not the same side when the likes of Andy Hazell was not involved and I think that just underlines his value to us.
"We made significant progress last season and much of that was down to Andy and his level of performance week in, week out. I hope he can get better and help Gloucester achieve even greater things."
Speaking ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership fixture at home to Newcastle Falcons (kick off 3pm), Director of Rugby David Humphreys emphasised the importance this weekend of Gloucester building on last week's impressive home victory against the Exeter Chiefs.
Speaking to the assembled national and local media, try-scorer Jonny May was delighted and relieved to have tasted victory on Saturday evening, and is looking forward to the European Rugby Challenge Cup final.
Tom Savage delivered a Man of the Match performance against Exeter Chiefs on his birthday on Saturday evening. He spoke to GRTV after the game about the importance of the European Rugby Challenge Cup win.
Speaking to the local media this week, John Afoa described the hard work that the Cherry and White have been putting in and that he is fighting fit ready for Saturday's European Rugby Challenge Cup semi final clash with Exeter Chiefs.
Gloucester Rugby face Exeter Chiefs this Saturday in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final, and Charlie Sharples, who starts at full back is relishing the challenge of the big Kingsholm occasion.
Gloucester meet the Exeter Chiefs for the fourth time in competitive action this weekend, this time in the semi-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Director of Rugby David Humphreys told the local media this week that this is the sort of game that Gloucester want to be involved in on a regular basis and that he and his team are looking forward to it.
Following the 29-26 loss to Harlequins, club captain Billy Twelvetrees spoke of his disappointment that the Cherry and Whites were unable to cash in on the home side's indiscipline and lose a lead on Saturday afternoon.
Gloucester Rugby return to Aviva Premiership action against the Newcastle Falcons on Saturday (Kingsholm, kick off 3pm), and make several changes to the side that defeated Exeter Chiefs at home last weekend.