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Gloucester Rugby have announced a raft of new signings to give the club a feel-good factor ahead of their European Rugby Challenge Cup trip to Benetton Treviso.
David Humphreys’ side are second in Pool 1, level on points with La Rochelle, and penned Leicester fly-half Owen Williams and Worcester prop Val Rapava Ruskin to deals this week.
England flanker Matt Kvesic may have left for English rivals Exeter, but the Cherry and Whites will still travel to Italy in high spirits. The Kingsholm outfit are still well in with a shout of making it to the last eight, but must win on the road this weekend to keep up the pressure on leaders La Rochelle.
Fraser Balmain and Carl Fearns will also join Gloucester for next season and on the signing of Welshman Williams, Humphreys said: “I’m delighted Owen will be joining Gloucester at the end of the season and I'm sure the supporters will look forward to his competition with Billy Burns for the fly-half starting spot.
“Top teams throughout Europe have two quality No 10's and Owen's experience with Leicester in both the Premiership and Europe will add some real quality and depth to a key position in our playing squad.
“He is still a young man with a real ambition to play international rugby and we all believe that Owen has the ability to play a central role in driving Gloucester forward.”
Gloucester were thrashed 42-13 by La Rochelle in their last Pool 1 encounter and will want to put that bad memory firmly behind them.
They should beat Treviso, who are struggling in the Pro12, before facing Bayonne on home soil in their final game of the pool stages.
Treviso are out of contention to make the latter stages, but won’t be giving up on Saturday.
“Hopefully we will make a good game out of it,” said their Kiwi head coach Kieran Crowley.
“It is a big game, but it is a big game for Gloucester too as they are equal with La Rochelle so they will be out to keep pace with them.”
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Richard Hibbard was the two-try hero as Gloucester Rugby survived a late change of venue, a delayed kick-off and then a spirited Benetton Treviso comeback in freezing conditions before they banked maximum points to go top of Pool 1.
The double former tournament champions will host Bayonne in Round 6 with a place in the last eight in their own hands as they top the group a point ahead of La Rochelle after running in six tries in a fine 41-0 victory.
Hibbard – named Heineken man-of-the-match – went over for a try in each half of a contest played on the 4 G surface at the Ghirada Sports Centre after it was called into emergency use when French referee Thomas Charabas deemed parts of Stadio Comunale de Monigo unplayable.
The two-hour delay in kick-off meant things finished in arctic conditions but Gloucester fans were able to warm their hands with half a dozen tries to savour and a defensive display that denied the home side any reward on the board despite a spell early in the second half when they had Gloucester under the hammer.
The first of the 41 points came when Treviso were caught offside and Greig Laidlaw made no mistake with his kick directly in front of the posts for an eighth minute advantage and thensome strong running from Jonny May had the Treviso alarm bells ringing.
A line-out steal by flanker Ross Moriarty initiated a storming break by No 8 Ben Morgan that stretched the home defence and May and Charlie Sharples made sure the pressure stayed fully on.
Wales star James Hook went over for the first try, superbly converted by Laidlaw, as the fog began descending and then flanker Jacob Rowan went close with a barnstorming break.
Treviso reminded Gloucester that they had an attacking threat of their own and they were indebted to Hook for a magnificent clearance as Treviso came again.
But Gloucester forwards Hibbard and Tom Savage carried strongly and Gloucester twice opted for line-outs from kickable penalties.
And it was second time lucky as the forwards drove determinedly and Wales hooker Hibbard was credited with a score that Laidlaw converted for a 17-points advantage with half-time looming, Andrea Buondonno short with a long range penalty chance.
Referee Charabas lectured both teams after a flare-up and then John Afoa needed lengthy treatment as the temperature plummeted, Treviso enjoying far more possession than they achieved in the opening 40 minutes and putting genuine pressure on the visitors.
A powerful Gloucester scrum enabled Morgan and the Savage to test the home defence and Matt Scott powered over for their third try, replacement Billy Burns adding the extra points.
And within minutes the bonus point was in the bank when Hibbard was driven over from a line-out for his second and Gloucester’s fourth that effectively said match done.
But there was still time for wing David Halaifonua first to provide the icing on the cake with their fifth try following a delightful cross field kick from Burns and then Billy Twelvetrees sealing it at the death with try No 6.