Newport Gwent Dragons can confirm that Former Junior All Black, Waikato Chiefs and Western Force prop Ben Castle is joining the ranks at Rodney Parade for the 2009-2010 season on a three-year deal.
At 185cm and 112kg, Castle is renowned for his skill in the scrum where his power and ability to play on either side of the front row will reinforce the Dragons' pack.
"Ben joins us with great experience and leadership having been a regular performer with Waikato Chiefs and this season with Western Force in the Super 14 competition, in addition to his time in France," said Dragons Head Coach Paul Turner.
"He has good leadership skills having captained Bay of Plenty and is also familiar with our captain Tom Willis from their Chiefs days. He will be a solid addition in the make-up of the Dragons squad."
The former captain of New Zealand provincial side Bay of Plenty won 42 Super Rugby caps with the Chiefs during his five seasons in New Zealand after debuting against the Crusaders in 2004 and is currently representing the Western Force as their marquee international player in the Super 14. He also represented the Junior All Blacks against Australia A at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2005.
"I am very pleased to be joining Newport Gwent Dragons," he said. "I am looking forward to joining up with Tom Willis again, who I played alongside in the Chiefs for five years and after playing against Hoani MacDonald numerous times, I am pleased to be playing with him.
"I am excited about the direction of the region. There is a great base of players there and I am really looking forward to the season and its successes."
Castle (29) will replace Dragons tight head prop Rhys Thomas who joins to the Scarlets at the end of the season.
Thomas, who picked up his seventh Welsh cap against Italy in the 2009 Six Nations has been with the Dragons since the inception of regional rugby and has notched up 98 starts for the Men of Gwent.
"I've enjoyed my eight years with the Club, having come through the youth structure," he said. "I've made some very good friends here. It's a great squad of players and I wish them all the best. I'm particularly grateful to the fans who have been really good to me during my time at Rodney Parade."
Paul Turner added "Rhys has been a tremendous servant to the Dragons and the club wish him the best of luck in his new challenge."
Dragons Chief Executive Gethin Jenkins said "We would like to thank Rhys for his service to both Newport and the Dragons and wish him well down west.
"Whilst we have lost Rhys, we are confident that we have recruited someone able to replace him in Ben. He will bring with him a tremendous amount of leadership and experience to our exciting blend of emerging Welsh and international talent."
All roads lead to Cardiff on Sunday for the SSE SWALEC Finals Day at the Millennium Stadium. Cambrian Welfare tackle Ystradgynlais in the Bowl final, Ystrad Rhondda play Newcastle Emlyn in the Plate final while defending champions Pontypridd face Bridgend in the Cup final.
WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates and WRU Chairman Gareth Davies earlier this week launched a new competition in conjunction with the WRU unveiling its archive room.
Welsh players and management joined Deputy Minister for Sport Ken Skates at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay earlier this week to reveal the Union's pioneering school-club hub initiative has been so successful the project will now almost double the scale of the original project.
The Scarlets, Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys look ahead to Judgement Day III which sees the Blues take on the Ospreys (2.30) and the Dragons tackle the Scarlets (4.45pm) at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Ystradgynlais and Ynysddu played out a titanic struggle at Taffs Well in the SSE SWALEC Bowl semi-final. At the end of the game neither team could be separated after a 15-15 stalemate but Ystradgynlais go through on try count.
Blues strike first in JD III battle - Newport Gwent Dragons lock Andrew Coombs, WRU referee Dylan Llyr Jones and Cardiff Blues hooker Matthew Rees decide dressing room allocations for Judgement Day III
Wales Under 18 captain Calum Haggett has received a conditional offer to read Biomedical Science at St Anne's College, Oxford. WRU chairman Gareth Davies went to meet Calum and Coleg y Cymoedd Principal Judith Evans to wish him luck in his exams and pass on some of his personal experience.