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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 17:03 GMT
Vainikolo tipped as England star
By Sam Lyon

Lesley Vainikolo
He's strong, he's fast, he can go over people and he can go around people. The skills he has work in both forms of the game

Harris on Vainikolo

Former team-mate Iestyn Harris has tipped Lesley Vainikolo to be England's "lethal weapon" in the Six Nations.

Vainikolo was chosen by Brian Ashton just nine games into his union career after his switch from Bradford Bulls, where he played with Harris.

"I don't think he's ready for a full international just yet," said Harris.

"But coming off the bench when defences are tired and he can show his true dynamism and power, he can be a lethal weapon. He's a try machine."

Vainikolo, nicknamed "The Volcano", scored 149 tries in 152 appearances for Super League side Bradford before switching codes and joining Gloucester on a three-year deal in July.

The 28-year-old made an immediate impact for his new club, scoring five tries in a match-winning debut against Leeds, and has totalled nine tries in nine appearances so far this season.

"He has done exceptionally well," former Wales fly-half Harris, who switched from league to union in 2001 before returning to the 13-a-side code, told BBC Sport: "You can't overlook him.

"He's scored a lot of tries and that's what marks him out as a bit special.

1979: Born 4 May, in Tonga to New Zealand parents
1997: Joins NRL side Canberra Raiders.
1998: Makes Test debut for New Zealand
2002: Joins Super League side Bradford Bulls
2005: Turns down lucrative offer to switch codes with Gloucester
2007: Joins Gloucester
2008: Called up by England
"Lesley has an attribute not many people have got - he just scores tries. I've played alongside him in games when he's been very poor and still gone over three times.

"He just seems to pop up at the right place at the right time and he scores tries that no other player in the world can score.

"As well as that he's strong, he's fast, he can go over people and he can go around people. The skills he has work in both forms of the game."

Harris's own switch to union was more muted. Celebrated as "The Saviour of Welsh Rugby" when he joined Cardiff Blues from Leeds Rhinos, it took the fly-half time to settle in the game before he went on to win 25 caps for Wales.

Henry Paul and Andy Farrell did not fare as well following their respective cross-code switches, but Harris believes now is the right time for Vainikolo to step into the England set-up.

I know for certain that Lesley is passionate for England - he's been talking about it for a long time

Iestyn Harris
"You could look at it one way and say the more game time he has at club level the better," he said. "But, to be honest, Lesley's not getting any younger and he is so passionate about the international game it's probably best to throw him straight in.

"England have got quality coming out their ears and it will be about him settling in and getting game time off the bench.

"But if he starts scoring tries on a consistent basis he could become an invaluable player for England."

Even the fact Vainikolo was born in Tonga and has represented New Zealand in rugby league will do little to dampen the winger's impact, says Harris.

"Players representing countries other than their place of birth is happening all the time in sport now - Kevin Pietersen and the England cricket team is just one example," said Harris.

"Lesley's been in England a long time and I know his family has settled into the English way of living. I don't think he has any intentions of going home once he's finished playing for example.

"I know for certain that Lesley is passionate for England - he's been talking about it for a long time - so I don't see it being a problem at all."

Gloucester coach Dean Ryan also backed the inclusion of his out-sized wing.

"It's no surprise to me that he's been picked because he's certainly a contrast to the other wingers we have in this country," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I'm sure that will be something they'll look to utilise at international level just as we have at club level.

"Wingers in England have traditionally just been based on speed whereas Les is able to combine that with the weight he carries around with him too."

And former England hooker Brian Moore, now a BBC pundit, said Ashton had made the right decison.

"I wasn't surprised - I think it's a brave selection, but I think it's the right selection," Moore told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He's the top try-scorer in the Guinness Premiership so you can't say he's not producing the goods."

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