Harris is demoted for French encounter

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The Independent Online

The mood in Cardiff yesterday was mixed. There was embarrassment at the memory of the Ireland defeat nearly two weeks ago, overlaid with determination in every Wales player that such a capitulation would never happen again.

And judging by the team announcement, searching questions have been asked and answered, the most obvious of which concerns Iestyn Harris. If Graham Henry was seen as the Great Redeemer, the former Leeds rugby league player was as close to a saviour as makes no difference. There was the little matter of the estimated £1.5m which the Welsh Rugby Union stumped up to tempt Harris into making the switch, but the caretaker coach, Steve Hansen, has not allowed the issues surrounding one player to influence the destiny of a whole team.

The consequence is that Harris, who played in the centre against Ireland, finds himself on the bench when Wales take on France at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. "We wanted to give him a chance to see a bit of Test rugby from a distance," explained Hansen, effectively admitting that perhaps Wales had been a trifle over-enthusiastic in fast-tracking Harris as they did.

The assistant coach, Clive Griffiths, who is in charge of the backs, endorsed that view and said: "Iestyn had played Glasgow twice then half a game versus Llanelli before he played his first Test against Argentina. That is a big ask. And at one stage he had played more internationals than club games.

"In hindsight it was a mistake to bring him on so quickly. The ideal route for him would have been a reserve game or two for Cardiff, a few matches in the Welsh-Scottish League, then a couple of Wales A games so that he could be led gently into full international rugby union. But he is tough enough. He will get over it. He is a good season off being the finished article. I can speak from experience after going the other way as a player from union to league. The first season for anyone changing codes is a difficult one. But he is good enough and he will come again."

In fact, Harris has not gone that far, just to the sidelines until and unless required by his country, because Hansen insisted he still had a place in the match-day squad. "The fact that he can play outside-half and inside centre, as well as the fact that he is such a good goalkicker, makes him a valuable replacement."

The raw centre pairing of Newport's Andy Marinos and Saracens' Tom Shanklin looks to be a physical one: both will make their presence felt quickly. When asked about their inexperience, Hansen countered: "What is experience? Is it how many games you play? Or is it how quickly you learn from you mistakes?"

In the Welsh management's case they are prepared to test that theory with the bulk of their senior players – the lock Chris Wyatt failed a fitness test on his ankle yesterday so Andy Moore is brought into the second row. "There's been enough change one way or another over the last week," Hansen said. "We are trying to get some consistency in selection and feel that by doing so we will get the improvement we are looking for."

WALES (v France, Six Nations, Cardiff, Saturday): K Morgan (Swansea); D James (Bridgend), T Shanklin (Saracens), A Marinos (Newport), C Morgan (Cardiff); S Jones (Llanelli), R Howley; S John (both Cardiff), R McBryde (Llanelli), C Anthony (Newport), C Quinnell (Cardiff), A Moore (Swansea), N Budgett (Bridgend), M Williams (Cardiff),S Quinnell (Llanelli, capt). Replacements: B Williams (Neath), D Jones (Neath), I Gough (Newport), G Thomas (Bath), D Peel (Llanelli), I Harris, R Williams (both Cardiff).

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