Harris takes centre stage as Wales try to halt Barbarians

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The Independent Online

Barbarians matches are traditionally described with f-words - fun, free-flowing and, above all, friendly. But the bunch of players currently on show in the home countries have been more akin to Vandals and Visigoths as they have brushed aside first English, then Scottish resistance.

Today it is Wales turn to try to prevent a Barbarians "Grand Slam" at the Millennium Stadium and they regard it as anything but friendly. Too much is at stake for them individually and collectively.

"People talk about this being a friendly, but we are treating it as a full-blown international," said the Wales captain, Martyn Williams. "We have not had a good season and to suffer another disappointment before we embark on a very difficult short tour down under would knock us back even further."

Individually the match represents a landmark for Neil Jenkins. The Wales fly-half and world record points scorer has retired from international rugby, but today he is on the Wales bench and is certain to make his 100th appearance in all games for his country.

While the crowd will witness the closing of one era, for another player it could be the start of greater things. Iestyn Harris has finally come to terms with his change of code and starts at what many acknowledge is probably his best position, inside centre.

An impressive performance there this weekend could see the former Leeds Rhinos rugby league captain putting pressure on Wales' midfield contingent for more consistent recognition - especially since Wales have two highly-competent fly-half operators in Stephen Jones and Ceri Sweeney

"We see Iestyn as someone who can play in more than one position, If we are going to see him at 12, then we need to give him as many opportunities as we can there," said Steve Hansen, the Wales coach.

The Barbarians themselves make several changes from the side which won in Scotland during the week and will pose a serious threat to Wales as they sign off their 2003 tour with the Northampton and Australia lock Mark Connors handed the captaincy. Hansen said: "I saw them against England last week and they were awesome. Their coach, Alan Solomons, is taking things seriously and that is a little different to some in the past." Another f-word sums up this match - fierce.

Wales: Garan Evans (Llanelli); R Williams (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), I Harris (Swansea), G Thomas (Bridgend); S Jones, D Peel; I Thomas, R McBryde (all Llanelli), A Jones (Neath), V Cooper (Llanelli), G Llewellyn (Neath), C Charvis (Swansea), A Popham (Leeds), M Williams (Cardiff, capt). Replacements: Mefin Davies (Pontypridd), B Evans (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), G Delve (Bath), M Phillips (Llanelli), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), T Shanklin (Saracens).

Barbarians: P Montgomery (Newport & South Africa); A Tuilevu (Otago & Fiji), C Stoica (Castres & Italy), D Gibson (Bristol & New Zealand), B Reihana (Northampton & New Zealand); F Contepomi (Bristol & Argentina), M Robinson (Auckland & New Zealand); O le Roux (Natal & South Africa), M Sexton (Ulster), F Tournaire (Leicester & France), R Strudwick (London Irish), M Connors (Northampton & Australia, capt), S Harding (Otago & New Zealand), O Magne (Montferrand & France), AJ Venter (Natal & South Africa). Replacements: R Ibanez (Castres & France), A Garvey (Newport & South Africa), M Galwey (Munster & Ireland), S Phelan (Club Athletico San Isidro & Argentina), D Edwards (London Irish), M Perry (Bath & England), S Staniforth (NSW & Australia).

Referee: D Pearson (England).