The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Iestyn Harris: There and Back - My journey to Union and League and back again

Iestyn Harris
There and Back
Published by Mainstream Publishing

By Iestyn Harris

‘In the autumn internationals, Steve (Hansen) came to me and said, ‘Do you know how to place the ball after a tackle?’ I had to admit I didn’t. I was playing international rugby and didn’t know one of the basics. Steve spent about half an hour with me and a tackling shield, taking me through some drills. He was the first person to get hold of me and explain the technique and that was after I had made my Test debut.’

Over the years many aspects of professionalism have led to the cheapening of international caps in rugby union. The trend for pointless last minute substitutes being one. The vogue of rotating your entire team for each game, a la New Zealand, being another.

But one of the worst slights on the game’s tradition in recent history was Iestyn Harris pulling on the fabled number ten shirt for Wales after having played just two and a half games of the sport.

Harris’ giddy ascension to the throne of Welsh rugby was purely to put bums on seats as the infinitely wise men of the Welsh Rugby Union wanted to immediately recoup some of the costs they had incurred in bringing Iestyn Harris from rugby league. The reward was a few thousand extra on the gate and a first home defeat to Argentina. It was a sad day for rugby in the Principality and there was, understandably, much head shaking from some of the former greats to have worn the scarlet fly-half shirt.

Iestyn Harris’ autobiography is well worth a read for the insight in provides into the often-ludicrous management of top-level sport. It is incredible to think that between all the management and staff of the Welsh Rugby Union and Cardiff RFC, no one had taken the time to school Harris in the fundamentals of the game after he had made the move south. Especially as he was clearly a superbly gifted player.

However, it isn’t just union that is capable of such gross incompetence or pettiness. The book reveals that towards the end of his time with league side Warrington, Harris was made to train on his own at 4am each day, banned from the club gym and not allowed to train with his team-mates; despite occasionally being called on to play for the first team. The reason? The club, looking to cut their expenditure, hoped he would refuse to train and they could cancel his contract.

The book is an enjoyable read, and Harris’ love for Welsh rugby and rugby union may surprise many of the cynical followers of the game who assumed the player had simply come to union for the cash.

Indeed, Harris reveals that he could have moved to union when he was as young as nineteen and substantially increased his salary by doing so. He chose to stay in league to try and achieve his personal ambitions in the game.

Similarly, he could have decided to wear the red rose of England when he crossed codes (he was born in Oldham) and had far more chance of international silverware. But Harris chose instead to remain loyal to the land of his father’s.

Iestyn Harris’ autobiography is a revealing look at the quirkiness of modern sport. Fans of Wales and Cardiff will find it of particular interest, although they may find themselves tearing their hair out in frustration as they read about the behaviour of their management during the player’s time in union.