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."
Defence Coach Jonny Bell admitted this week that the European Rugby Challenge Cup victory in Bayonne was a welcome one, stressed that Benetton Treviso will pose a tough test on Saturday at Kingsholm but that Gloucester are determined to deliver in front of their own fans.
Motu Matu'u is looking to make up for lost time this week as the Cherry and Whites head to Basque Country to take on Bayonne in the European Rugby Challenge Cup opener. The Samoan hooker made his first appearance in the jersey last weekend, and is hoping to contribute to the team this weekend.
Gloucester's attentions turn to Europe this weekend as they travel to Bayonne for their opening fixture of this season's European Rugby Challenge Cup. Forwards Coach Trevor Woodman told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will be aiming to top their pool as they've done for the past two seasons, but is well aware of how tough it is to win in France.
Although understandably disappointed at seeing victory slip away at the last minute, Ben Morgan said after the game at Exeter that there were plenty of positives that Gloucester could take from the game.
Speaking after a last-gasp try from Exeter earned the Chiefs a 27-27 draw at Sandy Park on Saturday, Charlie Sharples admitted to mixed feelings. The game saw him score a try on his 200th competitive appearance for the club, but the frustration from not closing out the win was clear.
David Humphreys was minutes away from a winning interview on Saturday afternoon, but a late try from Exeter Chiefs meant the points were shared at Sandy Park. Humphreys spoke with the local media after the 27-27 draw.
Speaking to the media ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership fixture away at Exeter Chiefs, Director of Rugby David Humphreys reiterated that there are elements of Gloucester's game that are in good shape at present, that the performance against Bath was a step forward from Newcastle but that individual errors are costing the Cherry and Whites dear.
Centre Matt Scott, a try-scorer in Bayonne last weekend, insists that Gloucester are taking nothing for granted when they welcome Benetton Treviso to Kingsholm on Saturday in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 3pm).