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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 June, 2004, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
A dream unfulfilled
By Jonathon Moore
Rugby union editor

Iestyn Harris
Iestyn Harris may have crossed the Severn Bridge in a blaze of publicity in 2001, but when he leaves this summer few will be surprised to see him go.

For both Cardiff and Wales, Harris has struggled to assert the authority he displayed in rugby league and, despite flashes of brilliance, largely failed to live up to his 2m price tag.

Since making the switch south from Leeds almost three years ago, Harris has split Welsh rugby right down the middle.

For some, his undoubted talents with the ball in hand make him an irresistible choice for international rugby.

The more cynical have suggested that his continued selection for Wales has less to do with his performances for the Blues and more to do with the WRU's need to utilise their considerable investment.

One thing is certain, however. Harris, one of rugby league's most magical performers, did not leave a hugely successful career in league to play at centre.

When he arrived, he was expected, somewhat unfairly, to cement his place in the Wales number 10 jersey and, after a stunning debut for Cardiff, was fast-tracked into the Wales team only to be brought crashing down against Argentina.

HARRIS FACT-FILE
Born: 25 June 1976
Clubs: Oldham, Warrington, Leeds, Cardiff, Blues
GB RL caps: 9
Joined Cardiff: August 2001
Wales debut: 10 Nov 2001 v Argentina
Wales caps: 25
Test points: 108
With just 200 minutes of rugby union under his belt, Harris struggled to keep up with the pace of the game and his sluggish clearance kick was charged down as the Pumas embarrassed Wales 30-16 in Cardiff.

Welsh fans should not have been surprised, but they were. Harris - the latest in a long line of Great Redeemers - had failed to make an instant impression and the seeds of doubt were firmly implanted in the minds of the rugby-loving public.

Under-fire coach Graham Henry agreed to give Harris more time and publicly announced that his future lay in the number 12 shirt.

For the man who had been expected to lead Wales out of years of international obscurity, the news must have come as a huge blow.

In his first match playing outside Stephen Jones, Harris cut a sorry figure as Wales were dispatched 54-10 by Ireland in Henry's last match in charge.

On that day, there were few indications that the pair would develop an understanding that would profoundly influence matches.

But more recently, under coach Steve Hansen, Harris and Jones have been at the core of one the most exciting backlines in the world game.

Gavn Henson
Gavn Henson is widely tipped to replace Harris at 12
With the duo often interchangeable, it gave Wales extra options both going forward and back and Harris' ability to step in as an extra goal-kicker saw him start ahead of a host of talented rivals, including Jamie Robinson and Tom Shanklin.

After impressive performances down under, where Wales were edged out at the World Cup quarter-final stage 28-17 by England, recent signs all pointed towards Harris' coming of age, albeit at centre.

Against Scotland in this year's RBS Six Nations championship he was masterful, whether taking on the Scots up the middle, his feet a blur of bewildering sidesteps and shuffles, or in launching his wide men.

But doubts concerning the robustness of his defence continued to cast a shadow over his reputation and his decision not to tour with Wales this summer was the nail in the coffin for those demanding evidence of his long-term commitment.

More recently still, Gavin Henson's superb performance at inside centre during Wales' 42-0 thrashing of the Barbarians left further questions hanging over Harris' international future under new coach Mike Ruddock.

With Welsh rugby struggling financially, the news he is set to leave one year early - with no financial penalties - will further enrage Welsh fans already seething from the closure of the highly-impressive regional side Celtic Warriors.

And, following the disclosure that he is set to forego his former club Leeds Rhinos for rivals Bradford Bulls, the controversy surrounding his departure may follow him all the way up the M6.





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