Saracens win race to sign Horan

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The man widely regarded as the world's best centre will be playing in the Allied Dunbar Premiership next season. Saracens yesterday announced the signing of Australia's Tim Horan for the next two seasons and the double World Cup winner, who is 30 today, will fly in to meet his new team-mates next week.

"He is not only a world-class rugby player but one of those people who form the essential backbone of any team," the Saracens owner, Nigel Wray, said. "He is a man of real character and I'm sure will bring to Sarries his great skills as a player, and ability to pass on talent and bring on younger players."

Horan previously turned down an offer to join Bristol after he was named World Cup player of the tournament last year. However, Horan has decided the time is right for a move and will leave Queensland Reds at the end of the current Super 12 campaign. At Saracens he will link up with the French full-back Thomas Castaignÿde.

"Sometimes you see people sitting on the bench at the end of their careers and I wanted to go out a year early rather than a year late," Horan said. "I would be able to play in Australia next year but the crunch was that I would be mentally tired this time next year." Horan's Australian career began in 1989, and since then he has played 79 Tests, scoring 30 tries.

If Horan is to play in the Heineken Cup for his new club next season then Saracens will need to beat Northampton tonight. Saracens know that they must win their two remaining fixtures if they are to finish in the top four of Premiership One and secure a place in Europe. But it will not be easy as Northampton and Bristol, who they play on Sunday, are also vying for a place in next year's Heineken Cup.

In South Africa, Joost van der Westhuizen yesterday announced he was stepping down as the national team captain because he wanted to focus onregaining his fitness. The inspirational scrum-half's successor is likely to be named on Saturday when the Springboks squad is announced for the two-match series against England, on 17 and 24 June.