New union captivates Castaignede

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The Independent Online

It is not just on the rugby field that Thomas Castaignÿde can produce the unexpected. His unpredictability extends to his private life, too, which explains why he has already had his honeymoon - in the Seychelles - before he marries his fiancée, Celine, on 26 August.

It is not just on the rugby field that Thomas Castaignÿde can produce the unexpected. His unpredictability extends to his private life, too, which explains why he has already had his honeymoon - in the Seychelles - before he marries his fiancée, Celine, on 26 August.

The wedding means the Saracen recruit will miss the trip to Bristol, but as the brilliant France international explained yesterday: "No one in England had any idea of when the season was due to start. I had to make the arrangements and, as I explained to François [Pienaar], my wedding could not go ahead without me; so I had to settle on a date."

The union that will interest Pienaar, who has confirmed he has retired as a player and will now be helping the head coach, Alan Zondagh, as well as involving himself in the commercial side of the club, is the one that forms between the dazzling Australian centre Tim Horan and Castaignÿde. Unfortunately for Saracens that particular marriage of skill and talent has to wait.

Horan is nursing an ankle injury picked up in mid-June in Australia's first Test against Argentina in Brisbane. A specialist's report is expected in the next couple of days, but Pienaar admitted that Horan's debut for the north London club could be delayed for up to a couple of months.

That means Horan could miss the start of the Heineken Cup, and Saracens open with a big one on the weekend of 6-8 October with an away trip to Toulouse in Pool Three.

Castaignÿde, who pulls on a Saracens jersey twice in 24 hours with an appearance in the friendly against the Irish province Leinster on Friday and then pops down to Twickenham as a member of the Saracens' Middlesex Sevens squad, relishes the prospect of facing his former club.

"I was in Toulouse recently," said the 25-year-old, who has joined Saracens on a two-year contract, "and everyone was stopping me in the street and talking about this game. I think the stadium will be full. I will enjoy this game."

He has not exactly been enjoying his pre-season training with Saracens, though. "I have been with the club for a fortnight now," said Castaignÿde, who has won 35 French caps since his debut in 1995, "and one week of that was spent in Biarritz. But it was hard. It was very hard. I knew the English players were more professional and very much fitter than in France and I came here knowing I had to improve my fitness.

"It is not that French players are very poor, they do many things well, but in France fitness training is generally left up to the individual. And I know when you are not fit you may do one thing very well in a match, but afterwards you need 10 minutes to recover, but... you are still in the game."

After suffering one culture shock in his native country, he is looking forward to having time off to absorb himself in more gentle attractions as well.

"I want to discover England. I have a flat 20 minutes from Southgate and I want to see Hyde Park and all the museums in London. And all my friends want to come over to visit me and to see London."

He also revealed another reason for wanting to come to England. "Here I feel free," explained the former Castres player. "I feel I can get away from the pressure of the French media and the public. Here I do not read the French papers or watch French television. I will be able to play my game, do my best and enjoy my rugby."

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