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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 12:18 GMT
Iestyn: Angel of the north
Iestyn Harris
Family man Harris headed for the land of his fathers
By BBC News Online's Robert Andrews

Camera-shy rugby union convert Iestyn Harris stood journalists up by a full hour before training with the Wales squad this week.

As the hyperbole rolled on before the 1.5m man's debut on Saturday against Argentina, the much talked about rookie and his team-mates were still getting their kit on.

He is shamelessly Welsh, which most people wouldn't believe just because he has a Lancashire accent

Wales rugby league coach Clive Griffiths

But the former Leeds Rhino, who switched to Cardiff in August, has had all his rugby career to prepare for the much-hyped entry to the 15-man game against Argentina, the first of three Welsh friendlies.

Indeed, those who know him best say what he lacks in punctuality he makes up for in paternity, modesty and benevolence.

Rhinos managing director David Howes, who lured Harris first to St Helens then to Leeds, stops short of saying butter would not melt in his mouth.

"I have known Iestyn since he emerged as a child prodigy at the age of 17 as a kid in Oldham," he says.

Iestyn Harris
Harris looked relaxed in squad training

"The first thing he does after a game is to visit his family, rather than head for the bar - he is very much a family man.

"He built a house connected to his mother Sandra's garden in Oldham, so I suppose it says a lot about how difficult it must have been to move to Cardiff."

Hotly tipped as Welsh rugby's new great redeemer after a measly but sparkling 200 minutes of union rugby, Harris has always kept it in the family.

Abercarn-born grandfather Norman played for Ebbw Vale, Pontypool and Newbridge before heading north to win eight Welsh caps under league rules.

I don't want to paint him as an angel, but that's just his character

Leeds Rhinos managing director David Howes
On Saturday, the Oldham-born 25-year-old will complete a circle, coming home to rack up international displays in both codes.

The capture of the rival code's greatest asset was union's greatest coup, but Leeds' Howes plays down any affection his former captain has for the media spotlight which has shone since.

"He very much has a star quality but he's never been affected by stardom and his feet are very much on the ground," he says.

"When we were negotiating his contract here, a key point was that he looked after his family.

"I don't want to paint him as an angel, but that's just his character."

Private passions

Indeed, steely Harris is intensely private off the field, guarding wife Becky and four-month-old daughter Catrin from prying eyes after they uprooted for the move south.

Career contemporaries like former Wales rugby league coach Clive Griffiths - are similarly protective of the Iestyn nest.

"Our careers have followed in parallel - he's a very modest man," he tells BBC News Online.

"He is shamelessly Welsh, which most people wouldn't believe just because he has a Lancashire accent.

Iestyn Harris factfile
1976: Born June 25, Oldham
1993: Signs for Warrington at the age of 17
1995: Makes Wales RL debut aged 19
1996: Makes Great Britain debut against Papua New Guinea
1997: April - Signs for Leeds for a reported 325,000
2001: August - Completes 1.5million move to the Welsh Rugby Union with Cardiff.
2001: November - Named in Wales international union squad.
"His sister is Rhian and her children are Dewi and Emrys - they are red through and through."

Already, Welsh squad stalwarts have sat up, noticed and hurriedly sought to emulate Harris's training work ethic in a bid to catch up, adds Griffiths.

Not since the days of Barry John has so much hype surrounded the nascent celebrity of a Welsh rugby incumbent with the head to cope with all the pressure at once.

But the jury is already out on Harris's ability to cope with the intense expectations of a Welsh public baying for success after a dip in form.

Adds Griffiths: "He's the model professional - he is a leader of men."

BBC News Online's Robert Andrews
"There was no drama, no commotion"
See also:

08 Nov 01 | Wales
Pumas play down Harris factor
09 May 01 | Welsh-Scottish Rugby
Griffiths cuts league ties
10 Aug 01 | Welsh-Scottish Rugby
Cardiff complete Harris capture
08 Nov 01 | Wales
Harris calls for patience
07 Nov 01 | Rugby Union
Harris to make quick-fire debut
30 Mar 01 | Sports Talk
Should Union poach League's top stars?
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