Give the boy time to become our hero

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The Independent Online

Iestyn Harris's only problem with the nation he has come to save is that they are jumping to too many conclusions too early. His excellent game yesterday proves what a great player he is but he still needs time to complete his education in his new code. Obviously, he is not going to avoid pressure whatever he does but a little realism at this early stage would help.

I have been asked to assist him make the transition from league to union. I made the reverse journey 12 years ago so I have some understanding of the particular problems he faces.

But there were a couple of important differences. When I went north, people expected me to fall flat on my face and many were hoping I would, in order to reinforce their opinion that union was an inferior game.

Eventually, I managed to achieve enough to overcome those prejudices but they certainly weren't hailing me as a world-beater after my first 40 minutes. I was lucky they gave me plenty of time to adjust. It helped that when I joined Widnes in 1989, they were by far the best side in league so they could afford to go easy on me.

For Iestyn, it is totally the opposite. There's less bad feeling between the codes these days so they respect what he has achieved in league but everyone is convinced that he can revolutionise Welsh rugby in just a few games.

After his debut in the second half against Llanelli, experienced union men were drooling over his performance. David Young forecast that he would soon be captain of Wales.

When he was warming up before going on, the Llanelli fans were cheering. A Cardiff player being cheered at Stradey Park? When I played there last for Cardiff I received more obscenities than I had had anywhere in the world.

The effect of his arrival is amazing. I have been predicting great things for Iestyn since he was a kid at Warrington with me but he has a long way yet to go before mastering union and he knows it.

I don't want to knock his performance against Llanelli, but the amount of space they gave him was ridiculous. If he was an unknown you could understand it but this is a £1m player who has made his name in the game of the tightest defences.

For some reason, Llanelli stood off him and he is going to face much tougher opposition than Glasgow, who spent yesterday dazed by it all. He still has adjustments to make. You can study and practise all you like but in the heat of the action your instincts take over. And if your instinct tells you to run when you should kick or go to ground when you should try to keep the ball alive you have a lot of mental re-programing to do.

He has elected to play at outside-half because he wants to be close to the action. He found his first taste of union to be stop-start and he only got into it when they put a few phases together and the pace quickened.

That will take some getting used to as will the step up from club to international level. Tactical kicking will be his biggest problem, and whereas he might get away with some loose stuff for Cardiff it could be disastrous in an international.

Luckily, he will have some alternative kickers around him when he plays for Wales. I expect to see Stephen Jones at inside centre to him, but I would like to see them swap around to give him a better idea of both positions. I would have preferred to see him start at 12 to give him a little more time to make his adjustments. But it is indicative of his confidence that he wants to be in the middle of it.

It is probably an indictment of the game in Wales that both his club and his country are already reshaping their sides to accommodate him.

It shows what a state we are in if we make him the hub of everything before he has had a chance to settle down. He is going to be a great asset but we have to let him adjust without placing the entire load of the nation's hopes on him.

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