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Rugby Union: WALES CALL-UP FOR IESTYN! but it's only to meet the lads; HE'S HERE: THE NEW pounds 2M UNION SUPERSTAR.

Byline: PAUL WILLIAMS

IESTYN HARRIS had hardly put the pen down yesterday when he got his Wales call-up!

But pounds 2m Harris, the most expensive player in the history of Welsh rugby, warned: Give me 12 months to prove myself.

Wales coach Graham Henry will hope it won't take that long - and invited the Great Britain stand-off to meet the national squad when he officially becomes a Cardiff player next month.

Henry, triumphant at the capture of 25-year old Harris following a year of negotiations, predicted he would be a big hit.

"Iestyn may not have played a game of union in his life, but he is a pedigree player and they will always adapt," said Henry.

"I am delighted that he will be available to the national selectors, but I do not want to put any pressure on him. He must be allowed time to adapt to the game and there will be no rushing him.

"He will be invited to the national squad sessions next month, but whether he will be in the frame for November's international against Tonga is something we do not know yet.

"Iestyn knows Clive Griffiths (Wales's defence coach) very well and he is close mates with Jonathan Davies. They will both play a big part in helping him settle.

"It is an exciting day for Welsh rugby. I do not know yet what Iestyn's best position will be - I guess he will start at full-back and then be tried out in the centre and outside half.

"He has international players in those positions in Cardiff to help him out and it is just a question of Iestyn playing games to get experience."

Wales first wooed Harris in the 1995 rugby league World Cup when he was 19 and it has taken them six years to land him. "I told them then that I would definitely play rugby union in Wales," said Harris.

"It was a question of when the timing was right and with the World Cup coming up in 2003, this was the moment.

"It is a big step for me and I know that I will be under pressure, but if that was something which concerned me I would not have made the move.

"I may never have played a game of rugby union, but I have regularly watched the sport and I have always wanted to play it."

Harris talked with his close mate, union and league legend Jonathan Davies, during the negotiations between the WRU and Leeds.

Cardiff have added Davies to their technical team - a move which will help Harris make the transition from the 13-man code.

"I have known Jonathan for the last seven years," said Harris. "I feel a bit like he must have done when he left Llanelli for Widnes at the start of 1989.

"Many people said that he would never make it in league, that he was too small and could not tackle.

"It took him a year to find his feet, but he then became, in my view, the best league player in the world. It will take me a good 12 months to prove myself in union. My aim is to make the Wales side, but my first priority will be to show that I am worth a place in the Cardiff side.

"I am looking forward to meeting up with the Cardiff lads and I just hope that they give me a good welcome."

Harris will become a Cardiff player on September 1, but his debut will be delayed until the following month as he recovers from a broken wrist.

He refused to join in the war of words which has erupted between league and union in recent weeks following the move of Henry Paul from Bradford to Gloucester.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my time in rugby league and it is a fantastic sport," he said. "It has a big future and Leeds have known for a while of my ambition to move to Wales.

"They are a great club and I wish them all the best. I come from a rugby league family, but in a strange way I feel as if I am coming back home.

"My father and grandfather were both born in Wales and they are delighted for me.

"They both reckon it is less difficult making the move from league to union than vice versa, but I will have to see about that."

Though the deal which would have taken Keiron Cunningham to Swansea fell through this week, WRU chairman Glanmor Griffiths said funds were available for more league players to come to Wales, with Lee Briers the top target.

"If any of our leading clubs identifies a player qualified to play for Wales that they want to sign, we will help them," said Griffiths.

FACT FILE

1976: Born: Oldham, June 25

1993: Signs for Warrington at the age of 17, kicks four goals in a 24-6 home League defeat of Leigh.

1995: At 19, makes his Wales debut alongside Jonathan Davies, Scott Quinnell, Allan Bateman and Scott Gibbs in Centenary World Cup. Named international player of the year on the back of his World Cup full-back displays.

1996: Warrington list him at a world record pounds 1,350,000. Makes Great Britain debut in a 32-30 win over Papua New Guinea.

1997: April - Signs for Leeds for club record pounds 325,000 plus reserve prop Danny Sculthorpe in part exchange.

1998: Wins Man of Steel award as player to have made the most impact on the season.

1999: Breaks Leeds record with 17 goals in a Cup-tie against Swinton and leads Rhinos to their first Wembley triumph for 21 years in May. Scores Super League record 42 points against Huddersfield in July and breaks club record for most goals in a season with 168. New four-year contract.

2000: Playing for the Rhinos' sister team Leeds Tykes in the Middlesex Rugby Union Sevens at Twickenham.

2001: In May reaches career total of 2,000 points. Selected for Wales against England on July 31, but withdraws with a wrist injury and then makes himself unavailable for the Ashes series in November.

August 10: Completes world record pounds 2million move to the Welsh Rugby Union.

CAPTION(S):

MY NEW BOY: Wales coach Henry with Harris yesterday; A NEW BALL GAME: Iestyn Harris has yet to play his first game of Rugby Union
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 11, 2001
Words:1064
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