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Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Saturday, 23 October 2010 19:54 UK

Iestyn Harris praises Welsh European Cup heroes

Wales celebrate their European Cup win
Wales celebrate their European Cup and Four Nations qualification double

Iestyn Harris hailed an "exciting time" in Welsh rugby league as Wales secured a landmark European Cup win to qualify for the 2011 Four Nations tournament.

Harris' team claimed successive Euro Cup victories as Wales shocked France 12-11 in Albi to progress.

The Welsh will now go face-to-face with rugby league super-powers England, New Zealand and Australia in next year's international rugby league showpiece.

"It's an exciting time for Wales rugby league," said Wales coach Harris.

"To beat an extremely good French team full of Super League standard players on their own soil is an achievement in itself.

"Now for Wales Rugby League - which has gone through some dark times over the past four or five years - to be in an elite World competition next year with the three best nations is a testament to everyone involved."

Harris predicts bright Wales future

One of Harris' former team-mates, ex-dual code international Rowland Phillips, who has coached the Wales union team's defence and is now in that role at Italian Magners League side Aironi, hailed the win as "brilliant".

Phillips said: "It's a brilliant result, a brilliant achievement for Iestyn as well. We had a very strong team, especially in 2005, then they had to rebuild when us old men retired.

"But Iestyn's done that and done that really well and to qualify for that Four Nations championship is a huge achievement."

Welsh rugby league's golden era of the 1990s seemed a distant memory before Wales was awarded a controversial Super League franchise in 2008.

Star names such as Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs and Scott Quinnell played rugby league to earn a living when the 13-man code was professional and union was amateur.

Wales starred in back-to-back World Cup semi-finals in 1995 and 2000 but the talent pool began to dry up when rugby union went professional in 1995 and rugby players stopped leaving south Wales to 'go north'.

But Harris and the league bosses have restored respect for rugby league in Wales with the help of development programmes inspired by the new Crusaders franchise.

Harris was once billed as the saviour of Welsh rugby union when the fly-half left league for union in a £1.5m move in 2001.

But he is actually in the process of saving Welsh rugby league as Harris, who once starred in Wales' golden era, was appointed Wales coach in September 2009.

He has inspired Wales to back-to-back European Cup wins and now qualification to the Four Nations tournament in the UK next year.

The 34-year-old former Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls stand-off has also played a key role in a coaching team that, with head coach Brian Noble, has transformed Welsh Super League franchise Crusaders from a bottom-of-the-table side to play-off qualifiers.

And Harris now hopes Wales can impress after their impressive promotion to the top-flight of international rugby.

"If we keep improving, who knows where we can go?" he said.

"What was important to us was to win this competition. The benefits of it will come into fruition for Wales Rugby League over the next 12 months.

"It's up to the powers that be now to decide whether we get a mid-season test against one of the big three and there's the prospect of the Four Nations after that. It's extremely pleasing to have won."

Lloyd White's last-minute kick beat a strong French side after Rhys Williams and and stand-in skipper Gareth Thomas had scored tries that inspired a Welsh side to glory without experienced talisman Lee Briers.

"To play so well last year was great," said Wales team manager John Devereux.

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"But to go to a winner-takes all in France and qualify for next year's tournament is outstanding and shows how far this team has come in a short space of time.

"Especially considering there are so many players in this side who have never played Super League.

Devereux, another former Welsh dual code rugby international, is now looking forward to Wales going head-to-head with rugby league's best after years in the wilderness.

"We're a long way away and a lot needs to be done," warned former centre Devereux.

"We need to strengthen the squad as we're under illusions that when we are playing Australia, England and New Zealand we will be underdogs."



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see also
France 11-12 Wales
23 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Harris in for Noble at Crusaders
08 Nov 10 |  Crusaders
Wales 31-30 Ireland
17 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Scotland 22-60 Wales
10 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Wales given 2013 World Cup spot
07 May 10 |  Rugby League
Welsh rugby league's Crusade
22 Jul 08 |  Rugby League
Crusaders & Salford win licences
22 Jul 08 |  Rugby League


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