SARACENS pulled of a major coup this week when they pipped Northampton, Rotherham and interest from clubs in France and Wales to sign former Springbok prop Cobus Visagie on an 18-month contract from Western Province.

The 30-year-old tight-head, who won the last of his 29 caps against Argentina in June, is widely regarded as one of the most respected front-rowers in world rugby, and he will provide some much-needed fire-power to the Saracens pack.

Visagie touched down in England at 6am on Wednesday morning after a 12-hour flight from South Africa, and was training with his new team-mates at Bramley Road four hours later.

"There were other clubs interested in him but he made a decision to come to us, which is a brave one," admitted head coach Rod Kafer. "I think, from his point of view, one of the attractions was that we weren't that successful and he wants to be a part of what we are trying to do here.

"He's a guy with an enormous amount of experience, a terrific leader and as well as being a very good player we get the added benefit that he wants to be active in the coaching and development of a side. He will help develop some of the young guys they have got here at club like Aston Croall, Ben Broster and Stu Philpott."

The 6ft 1 inch 18st prop, who is also a charted accountant, comes with an impressive pedigree. Visagie was a cornerstone of the South African side who reached the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup and has won four Currie Cups with Western Province. He also won 43 Super 12 caps with the Stormers but after failing to make the Springbok World Cup squad decided to head overseas.

"I've been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time so I'm delighted and very excited about the prospect of playing for Saracens," he said.

"Nigel Wray's and Mark Sinderberry's enthusiasm is contagious and I have been really impressed by their professionalism, and their reputation is something to be proud of. In South Africa, Saracens are probably the best known club because of Francois Pienaar.

"I heard about the offer a month ago and I always targeted the 2003 World Cup as the end of my career in South Africa. I turned 30 at the end of last month and I decided I wanted to take up this challenge.

"It will also help my development as I envisage a future in technical coaching."

Visagie's immediate task though, will be to shore up the front row, a challenge he is relishing.

"I know the situation the club is in and I want to make a contribution and help turn things around for Saracens. I think it's a challenge for a lot of the guys, including Rod Kafer and Mark Sinderberry who have been very successful in other endeavours."

World Cup winner Richard Hill hailed the arrival of Visagie.

"Cobus is a top international forward with huge experience and he will prove a tremendous addition to the squad."

The South African will qualify as an EU player after the recent Kolpak case, which effectively gave European working rights to substantially more countries, in particular, those players holding passports from Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Visagie, who had a ban overturned after testing positive for nandrolone in 2000 and recovered from a serious injury in 2002, which required a pin to be inserted through his tibia and fibula, is expected to go straight into the side to face Rotherham on Sunday.