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Jonathan Davies's column: 2003 That's the year when I'd love to see Iestyn wearing a Wales shirt.

IESTYN HARRIS would be a sensation for Wales at the World Cup - 2003, that is, not 1999.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that the Welsh Rugby Union are still very keen to tempt Iestyn away from rugby league.

He's a superb player - strong and skillful - with a great attitude and it was a pleasure to play alongside him during our days together in the Welsh rugby league side.

I've no doubt that he has the ability and the rugby intelligence to make the switch and he would undoubtedly provide Graham Henry with the kind of quality strength in depth he is seeking.

But it would be madness to try to rush through a deal at this stage and add him to the World Cup squad as some people have suggested.

When he does try rugby union - and I think it is a case of when rather than if - then he needs to be allowed the time to learn the game.

Every player who has made the switch, in either direction, has learnt the harsh reality that the two codes are indeed two different ball games.

There would be no point rushing Iestyn into a Welsh jersey only to watch him fall flat on his face.

It might dent his confidence and delay the kind of impact I am sure he will eventually make.

Henry Paul and Jason Robinson were established rugby league internationals but they both struggled at Bath to begin with because they were exposed to a form of rugby which was totally alien to them.

Iestyn has two years left on his contract with Leeds and is still only 23.

By the time the World Cup after next comes around he will be at the peak of his powers.

I know for a fact that he could have gone to Saracens two years ago because I took him down to London and introduced him to Saracens owner Nigel Wray.

The talks went very well and I am sure it would have been a very lucrative move for him. But Iestyn made the decision to stay in rugby league for the time being and I am sure that was wise because things have gone very well for him with the Rhinos.

From Henry's point of view the best policy would be to invite Iestyn to come along and watch the World Cup in October, meet the Welsh boys in the squad, and get an appetite for it.

Then, when he starts to count down his Leeds contract, the WRU can make their move. Iestyn can learn the trade of rugby union at a Welsh club and Wales will eventually be able to make use of a fantastic talent.

But I don't see him playing outside-half for Wales at rugby union, though. His kicking out of hand isn't good enough.

I see him being used as a full-back or a centre - maybe as a long-term alternative to Shane Howarth or Scott Gibbs,

He is quick, very strong, has a great step off either foot, and lovely hands. He tackles hard, has a wonderful temperament, and is very competitive.

I know he enjoys rugby union and would love to play the game at international level, even though the pressures off the field, the media interest and the level of expectation in Wales are bigger than anything he has yet known with Warrington or Leeds.

Iestyn has taken most things in his stride so far, though, and I feel sure he could cope with the intense spotlight a move into the 15-man code would create.

When I came back to rugby union, I was in the final years of my career. I had to pick up the threads of a game that was still in my memory and was the sport I had grown up with.

But it took me time to adjust because I had got so used to running and thinking like a league player.

The difficulties for rugby league players who haven't played the game much before are even more marked.

That's why Iestyn must not be rushed.

His introduction to the game has to be carefully considered so that he is comfortable with the game by the time he pulls on a Welsh jersey.

Then, with a couple of Five Nations campaigns under his belt, I think he could become a real asset for Wales at the World Cup in four years' time.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Davies, Jonathan
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 16, 1999
Previous Article:Jonathan Davies's column: LEAGUE KO SO WRONG.
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