Rugby Union: Honiball signs two-year deal with Bristol

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BRISTOL, NEWLY promoted to Premiership One, have signed Henry Honiball, the 33-year-old South African Test outside-half.

Honiball, who has agreed a two-year contract, said: "I would not have agreed to sign unless it had been a very lucrative proposal and the lads that have played in Britain have told me that the change is as good as a holiday."

The cattle farmer from Durban could not travel to England because of family commitments, but he was introduced yesterday via video-link at a press conference by the Bristol chairman, Malcolm Pearce.

"With his record, talent and experience I expect him to contribute a huge amount to our performances next season and, if anyone was in any doubt, I hope this signing shows we mean business in the coming season," Pearce said.

Bristol's director of rugby, Bob Dwyer, Australia's 1991 World Cup-winning coach, was full of admiration for his 6ft 3in, 15st acquisition.

"It's no exaggeration to say Henry has rewritten the requirements for fly-halves," Dwyer said. "Once they were will-o'-the-wisp guys but send your No 8 at Henry and he'll knock him back. He can distribute the ball both early and late because he's so strong and in attack he poses the kind of threat you see from an inside centre. Add to that a formidable goal-kicker and a modest and imperturbable temperament and I'd say we've got a pretty complete rugby player."

Honiball began his rugby career with Free State before moving to Natal in 1992. He made his Test debut as a replacement against Australia in 1993 but it was not until three years later that he established himself as South Africa's first-choice No 10. He has since been capped on 33 occasions, the last being against England at Twickenham in December.

In his international career he has scored 143 points, including 22 at the Parc des Princes in November 1997 in the 52-10 defeat of France.

Dwyer has already enticed England's international lock Garath Archer back to the club from Newcastle. The Welsh international hooker Barry Williams and the England A prop Darren Crompton signed recently from Richmond with the flanker Adam Vander set to follow.

The pack next season will also include the Canadian back-row forward Al Charron and former England international Dean Ryan. The No 8, who has been the forwards coach at Bristol since January, will return to action following a neck injury to link-up with Archer in the second row.