Rugby Union: The dangers of code-switching

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The Independent Online
SHORT OF announcing that a useful South Sea Islander qualifies for Wales on the grounds that his great grandfather once ate a missionary from Upper Cwmtwrch, Graham Henry has made it plain he will scour the world for talent.

Henry is still new to the job but he realises there is very little strength in depth in Wales and he is trying hard to develop an international squad that contains players who can compete on the world stage. This is what makes the possible conversion of Iestyn Harris and Anthony Sullivan from rugby league to union particularly interesting. The attractions of moving from the north of England are obvious.

In Anthony's case his father Clive began his great career with Cardiff, so there's an emotional tie. Their careers would benefit from far more media coverage and, of course, they would be paid all year round. That is the good news.

Not so good is the fact that Gary Connolly, Jason Robinson and Henry Paul, who did a similar thing in England, didn't make quite the impact everyone was expecting. There are several reasons for this. As I discovered, it is incredibly difficult to maintain your form if you're playing all year round. At some stage you have to rest.

Another factor is that the games are so totally different. You can't just hop from one to the other. League is far more demanding but it's also a lot simpler. Union has so many laws and is more technical. In league the object is to gain as much yardage as you can. In union you can get bogged down in the complexity of the laws. It might be different for Sullivan who, as a wing, is an out and out finisher and therefore his role would be straightforward.

I think Harris needs to be more careful. He is at present in fantastic form, probably playing the best rugby of anybody in either code. I have no doubt he'll be named rugby league player of the year. To buy him out of his contract with Leeds, the WRU may be asked to pay as much as pounds 2m. No rugby player is worth that, however good. There is no commercial comparison with Michael Owen.

What worries me is who is trying to negotiate the deal on behalf of the WRU. I suspect that they don't know what is best for everyone and that, typically, they're just playing at it.

If Harris played for Wales where would you put him? You wouldn't want to interfere with the centre partnership of Allan Bateman and Scott Gibbs, so Harris would play either full-back or outside-half. I would love to see him play for Wales in whatever position, however, if I was in his shoes I wouldn't move, at least not yet.

He's got everything to lose by playing in Wales just now. If the WRU put him with one of the clubs they in effect own, he'd get his arse kicked from here to Toulouse in the European Cup. If he stays at Leeds he would have a part to play in the rugby league World Cup with Great Britain. If I was Harris I'd wait until the end of my contract. By then the fortunes of Wales may have risen. He's got to look after himself because nobody will do it for him.

It may be disappointing in the short term if he misses the rugby union World Cup in Wales but he's young enough to be able to play in the next one. Mind you it would be a different picture if the WRU offered him a five-year contract worth half a million but, as I've said, I don't have the greatest confidence in the negotiating process.

Because of his track record in New Zealand, not to mention his salary, people are expecting a lot from Graham Henry and I just hope that his advisers are not too influenced by being involved with the WRU.

I had a chat with Dick Best at the London Irish centenary dinner in London last weekend and exchanged a few notes on coaching. I hope to get involved in the game in that capacity sooner or later. Whether it's with a club or with Wales who knows but I have already had several approaches.

One of the things I've noticed is that players need more individual coaching. When they make mistakes they tend to repeat them in following matches because there is nobody watching them or advising them. In Australia these sort of problems are addressed by a sporting academy.

Henry has started well, if only because he is not cursed with the traditional WRU trait of saying the daftest things. For most people in Wales that is a promising enough beginning.

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