THE expected New Zealand flavour at Saracens this season was given added spice this week with the capture of former New Zealand Under-21 hooker Joe Ross on a three-year deal.

The 26-year-old, who turns 27 in two weeks time, is the third along with Craig Quinnell and Christian Califano of an expected five new faces in a bid to revamp the Saracens' pack which head coach Wayne Shelford and chief executive Peter Deakin have clearly identified as the major area in need of bolstering.

"He's a big tough guy, just what we need in the tight and around the park," said Deakin, who is keen to make his front five a more formidable proposition. "I'm certain that he will be an important team member and I'm looking forward to seeing him develop all his skills with us and becoming a Saracen through and through."

Ross, expected to be joined in the front row by another New Zealander before the new season starts, is no stranger to domestic rugby having plied his trade in England for the past 18 months with Bedford and, more recently, Worcester.

Ross' admiration for Shelford, a legend in New Zealand and world rugby, and his wife's British passport meaning he will not count as an overseas player appear to be two of the significant factors in his arrival into the Zurich Premiership.

"With Wayne Shelford at the club, I knew that it would be an awesome opportunity to play under him, and with other players such as, Christian Califano, Richard Hill, Tim Horan, Kyran Bracken and Thomas Castaignde, it'll be excellent to train and play with these guys.

"Having being playing back at home or in division one, I don't think I've played against any of my new team mates before, but I'm excited about getting to know them all. I've also got many friends here in the UK and my wife has a British passport so is keen to use it," said Ross, who becomes the third hooker at the club alongside Robbie Russell and Matt Cairns.

Shelford, currently tying up loose ends in his homeland before officially taking up his post, was equally delighted with his first capture since he was confirmed as head coach.

"I coached Joe Ross when he was a young guy back in New Zealand. He is a tough guy who's got a lot of potential, and he most definitely will help to shore up our front row. He's got over 50 caps for his Province (Northlands) and has been in England for a year and a half, so is comfortable here.

"I was keen to get some more experience in the front row, and he makes the trio stronger. I believe that we need three hookers, so if we lose one to injury, we've still got two available on matchday."

A specialist hooker, Ross is described as a tough and agile character and the former amateur boxer is looking to add a considerable punch to the Sarries' front row which was painfully stretched last season.

"One of the reasons that I enjoy rugby so much is because it's a team game, and I'm very much a team player. I believe that I'm hard working and good in the set phases and a solid scrummager. I really want to get involved with Sarries, play well and stay as long as possible. Getting into the starting line-up is a personal goal of mine."

Ross, whose father has represented his country at tennis, was part of the New Zealand Vikings a Barbarians-style invitation side made up of NPC and Super 12 players in 2000 where one of his most memorable rugby moments came with a try against Scotland in New Zealand.

Ross' formative years were spent at his Province, Northlands, where he played between 1995 and 2000. Ross has also been a part of the renowned New Zealand Academy.

Ross will link up with his new team-mates on July 15 when the pre-season training programme kicks off at the club's training ground in Bramley Road.

Meanwhile, the third La Manga Rugby Golf Classic takes place at the La Manga Club, Spain from Tuesday July 2nd to Saturday 6th July 2002.

Based on the successful Footballers Classic run by Terry Mancini, the basics of the event are that teams play several days of golf alongside rugby celebrities.

This prime golf trip allows rugby enthusiasts to improve their swing in the company of some of the biggest names in the world of rugby, past and present. La Manga is a fantastic location and provides the ideal backdrop for what is a very relaxed and enjoyable five days.

"It is fair to say that this event is now the principle end of season golf event for professional rugby union, popular with the players and sponsors alike." said Tom Hill, director of Red & Black Promotions

Saracens' and England star Kyran Bracken went on the trip last time around:

"It was absolutely fabulous last year," said the scrum-half.

"The competitive juices flow, but the socialising is a major part too. The setting is wonderful, the weather is great and the courses are set up so that it's both testing and fun, and suitable for golfers with a wide range of handicaps.

"It's an income stream for the club, but also a fine opportunity for sponsors and supporters."

Already confirmed for this year's event are Mark Ring, Richard Hill, Kevin Sorrell, Paul Burke, Zinzan Brooke, Gareth Davies, John Taylor, Adrian Davies and Mark Denney.

For further information on the La Manga trip please contact Mo Weir on 01923 204608 or or log on to

June 21, 2002 12:30