PETE Buxton admits it will be surreal to leave Gloucester after 11 seasons this summer – but the back-row stalwart wants to bow out in style.
The 34-year-old loose forward has agreed a deal to join Bristol next season – but still cannot quite believe this will be his final Kingsholm campaign.
The bruising flanker has set his sights on helping Gloucester to one more Premiership play-off battle before he swaps West Country rugby citadels.
Buxton felt the full force of Gloucester's agonising Premiership final defeats of 2003 and 2007 and the semi-final frustrations of 2008 and 2011.
Gloucester's 27-11 victory over Northampton Saints on Saturday resurrects the prospect of another top-four finish – and another play-off tilt.
And Buxton could think of no finer way to round off his Kingsholm tenure.
Buxton explained: "There's still a number of players at the club who would love nothing more than to claim that elusive title.
"There's a hell of a lot of work to do still but the big aim is to get back to the play-offs again.
"And clearly now this is my last chance at Gloucester.
"It was a massive win for us at Northampton, and it puts us right back in the mix after a frustrating home loss to London Irish.
"We go to Wasps on Sunday knowing victory will really put us in that play-off mix.
"And while there will be plenty of emotion for me further down the line about leaving at the end of the season, in the meantime the top four is the huge motivation."
Cheltenham-born Buxton shared the Gloucester captaincy with Marco Bortolami in the 2007-08 campaign after making the switch from Newport in 2002.
It was Nigel Melville who recruited Buxton – but every coach since has kept the loose forward in his plans.
The back-row revamp started by Bryan Redpath and continued by Nigel Davies has finally caught up with the indomitable grafter though.
Buxton boasts 270 Gloucester appearances since 2002 and currently stands four shy of 200 starts.
After celebrating his testimonial last year, Buxton would love to hit that landmark before moving on in the summer.
He explained: "It hasn't quite sunk in yet. It will feel odd when I drive out of the car park for the last time.
"Gloucester has been a huge part of my life.
"My time here has been fantastic, I'm so grateful for my time at Kingsholm.
"There are so many memories and I've made so many good friends.
"I'm really looking forward to joining Bristol, it's a really exciting move and a great new challenge.
"I feel like I have a lot of rugby left in me and I want to keep playing at a high level and pushing myself.
"But there's a lot for me to focus on ahead of that, and a lot I still want to achieve before now and the end of the season with Gloucester.
"I'm going to make the most of everything I can here.
"We're into the most crucial part of our league season now. The win on Saturday against Northampton leaves us well placed, provided we capitalise on it."