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Rugby Union: Iestyn class will get his reign off to good start.

Byline: Jonathan Davies

DON'T expect miracles from Iestyn Harris tomorrow - just quality.

There has been a huge amount said and written about his debut for Wales but this is international rugby and not the script for some film.

No Argentinian player will be there to help Iestyn bask in the spotlight. They will be trying to knock his head off, rather than join in a coronation.

But Iestyn is used to opposition players wanting to leave their mark on him, as well as supporters with huge expectations.

He can handle both and I'm sure what we will see is an assured debut which hints at huge potential once he smooths out the inevitable ruffles which are still in his game.

Anyone thinking he is going to score every time he gets the ball is out of touch with reality.

But I reckon there will be enough moments of real class to suggest he is going to be a hugely important player for Wales for years to come - a longer-term influence, certainly, than the current coaching team.

Iestyn and I go back a long way - from his early days in league - and we speak regularly.

He wants to make his own way in the game and the best way to learn is out there on the field. But my main message to him is the same as his message to the Welsh public -be patient.

Iestyn needs to enjoy himself and play it as he sees it, not as others have told him he should.

He should be looking for openings, but not forcing them - relying on the experience of team-mates to help him through at times, but also be forceful enough to dictate matters when they need dictating.

After all, he is already a proven international rugby player with all the skills. It is just a matter of relating those skills to a different context.

I have heard he won't be doing much kicking and that Stephen Jones will concentrate on kick-offs and re-starts.

That seems sensible because Iestyn can then focus on the other elements of the outside-half - directing operations for the players around him. Iestyn's kicking out of hand in rugby league was very sound, but it was always done with the aim of putting pressure on the receiver.

He will be able to handle those kinds of kicks again, but whether they force the Argentinians into mistakes will depend on the quality of the chasers, which will normally be the Welsh back three.

Anthony Sullivan will be a big help, because he already knows how to read Iestyn's intentions - as we have seen with Cardiff.

But good teams hunt down the receiver as a group in order to limit options. Rhys Williams and Kevin Morgan both have to play their part.

Sullivan's debut will be interesting because he came close to playing for Wales three years ago in his first spell with Cardiff.

Since then he has given up his rugby league career and benefitted from it in the same way Jason Robinson became single-minded about rugby union once he left league behind.

Sully is now 32 but he has the pace to trouble most teams and there'is no doubt his hardened professional attitude will improve this Welsh side which has often lacked the killer instinct.

Wales will know exactly what to expect from Argentina, who showed against the Wales A side that the strengths of their game remain the same.

They have powerful forwards who scrummage well, drive their line-outs and maul with plenty of power.

They sap the strength of opposition forwards because they relish those tight phases. But I reckon they have an ordinary line-out and I expect Wales will attack that area.

In general, Wales need to get away from a set-piece game and break things up with plenty of runners offering themselves as options to Iestyn.

He will see those openings because he has real vision and I am looking forward to seeing both Scott Quinnell and Gareth Thomas running into space on the inside ball.

With Thomas at centre and fast men out wide, it is an attacking Welsh line-up and one capable of scoring plenty of tries.

Quinnell's return is also a big plus because he breaks tackles and carries the ball into areas from where Wales can hurt the opposition.

After the extremely poor display against Ireland, the players and Graham Henry need a win.

A defeat would really eat away at their confidence and self-belief and there would be another period of blood-letting.

But Wales will win if they play sensibly and concentrate on the areas where they can keep the Pumas quiet - away from the tight forwards.

Iestyn's confidence will grow once he has a Test under his belt and a victory will mark the beginning of a new phase in more ways than one.


ON THE BALL: Iestyn Harris puts the final touches to preparations for tomorrow's Test debut
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2001
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