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Van Straaten to join Sale Sharks next season

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Tykes' CEO Gary Hetherington told Planet Rugby earlier on Thursday that Van Straaten would not be prolonging his stay at Headingley, saying: "There was an offer put to Braam at around Christmas time, which was rejected by him, and the issue has not been revisited since.

"We are now looking elsewhere for our overseas player for next season, as Braam will be leaving us at the end of his current contract in June."

When contacted by Planet Rugby later in the day, Van Straaten confirmed that he would be leaving Headingley. Not for sunny South Africa, but for the Sharks, where his old friend, former Western Province hooker Charl Marais, is winding down his playing career.

"I was planning on going home [to South Africa]," said Van Straaten. "But I got a good offer from the Sharks and after chatting to my wife about it we decided to stay."

With regular Sharks fly-half Charlie Hodgson battling a serious knee injury at present, Van Straaten, who has played 21 Tests for his country, will be signing a one-year contract only, with the Sharks having the option of the additional year.

"I think they were looking for a kicker after Charlie's injury," he said.

Sharks Coach Jim Mallinder explained how the signing came about:" Braam approached us through his agent a while ago, and the opportunity to sign such a World Class player at a time when our first-choice fly-half Charlie Hodgson was due to be away with England at the World Cup was too good to miss.

"I met with Braam, was impressed with his desire to join us and quickly concluded a deal."

Mallinder – who will coach England in their June Tests against USA and Canada – was initially more reserved in commenting on the swoop for the prolific point-scorer, telling Planet Rugby on Thursday: "Braam has agreed to join us, but as yet the paperwork hasn't been finalised, so it would be unwise for me to comment too much at the moment."

At this stage, the 31-year-old Van Straaten, who has scored 208 Zurich Premiership points for Leeds this season, is not sure about life after the 2003/04 season.

"I could play for another two or three years," he said. "It all depends on what the best is for my family. I need to make sure that I can provide for them at all times."

Van Straaten's wife returned to South Africa on Monday, with the couple expecting their second child in early June. He will return home after the current English season – on June 1 – to be with his wife before they go back to the United Kingdom for Chapter Two of their "British Experience".

"I've really enjoyed my time with Leeds," he said. "Phil [Davies] and I get along really well and I've made some lifelong friends here. But life moves in circles. It's full of challenges and I'm ready for my next one."

A few weeks ago Van Straaten hinted that he would be returning to South Africa to challenge for a place in the Springbok World Cup squad, but having committed to another English club, his chances of representing his country at RWC '03 seem to have gone out of the window.

"I never quite had my heart set on the World Cup," explained Van Straaten, who has scored 208 points for Leeds in the Zurich Premiership this season. "Sure, it would've been nice, but there are a lot of other factors to consider."

With the 2003/04 Zurich Premiership season expected to get under way on September 12, it will continue throughout the World Cup. Van Straaten will, however, has a clause drawn into his Sharks contract, which would release him for World Cup duty. If required, of course.

"There's nothing that comes close to the Green and Gold jersey. It's the ultimate. I'm always available for my country."

By Howard Kahn

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