Harris the foundation stone for Wales

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The Independent Online

First there was the Millennium Stadium, now Wales are building an even more ambitious structure – a side to challenge for the 2003 Rugby World Cup and yesterday the coach Graham Henry selected what he and a nation hopes will be the foundation stone of the new edifice.

Iestyn Harris, 25, the former Great Britain and Wales league player has been named at stand-off for Saturday's union Test against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and Henry said: "He will play a lot of rugby for Wales."

In other words Harris, whose international rugby league career comprises nine Great Britain appearances and 13 for Wales, is as good as cemented in place, provided he performs, and Henry has no doubts about that. "People who have seen him play have seen his qualities; he has vision, ability and will be stimulating for the other players. He is creative for others as well as for himself. He enjoys performing on the big stage and they do not come much bigger than the Millennium Stadium."

The Wales captain David Young is another fan. Harris has joined Young at Cardiff and the Wales tighthead prop, who has also played league, said: "I did not think it would be long before Iestyn played union for Wales. I have played rugby league with him and knew then that he was a rare talent."

But while the expectations are great, Henry foresees a few hard times for Harris before he can realise his full potential. "Selecting him is a bit of a punt, but if you don't take a punt you don't get anything. He is certainly not going to be the finished article on Saturday. He is miles away from that. I would say it will be 12 months before he feels totally confident with his game. We must not get carried away though."

Then again he is not expecting the pressure of expectation to affect Harris. "He has the best background and preparation for a situation like this," the New Zealander said. "He has played rugby league at a high level. He has been through the expectations bit and experienced the pressures of playing top quality rugby league at club and international level."

There was a broad hint from Henry that the Argentina Test will be the first of three autumn outings for Harris, culminating in the big match against the world champions Australia on 25 November. "There was not much point picking him for this match if he was not going to play against the Wallabies," Henry explained. "And having picked him there is no point wrapping him in cotton wool, either."

Harris might not be the only former rugby league debutant. If, as expected, Neath's Shane Williams fails a fitness test today on an ankle injury, then Harris's Cardiff club-mate Anthony Sullivan, the former St Helens wing, will get the call.

Sullivan is in his second incarnation with Cardiff. In his first three seasons he played eight games and scored six tries, this time around he has again played eight matches, scoring five tries.

If Sullivan plays it will bring to nine (eight personnel, one positional) the number of changes to the Wales team from the one which lost to Ireland in the delayed Six Nations match in Cardiff last month, but Henry insisted that it was not defeat which forced so many on him. "We have players coming back from injury, then there is Gavin Thomas who has had a great apprenticeship, and now I feel the time is right to give him a chance.We are building towards the next Rugby World Cup in 2003."

WALES (v Argentina, Cardiff, Saturday): K Morgan (Swansea); R Williams (Cardiff) G Thomas (Bridgend), S Jones (Llanelli), S Williams (Neath) or A Sullivan (Cardiff); I Harris (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff); D Morris (Swansea), R McBryde (Llanelli), B Young (Cardiff, capt), A Moore (Swansea), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Charvis (Swansea), G Thomas (Bath), S Quinnell (Llanelli).