Harris looks for home bonus
Wales coach Iestyn Harris says that playing at home will certainly be a help to his young team as they take on Scotland in the rugbyleague.com European Cup Final this Sunday at the Brewery Field in Bridgend (kick-off 4pm).
“The fact that the rugbyleague.com European Cup Final is in Bridgend is a bonus and we have to be confident because of that,” said Harris. “We did well against Ireland winning 42-12 and that was a tremendous boost to everyone’s confidence. However Scotland also had a very good win last weekend over Lebanon and they’re also going to confident, but we’re at home and playing at the Brewery Field will certainly help us. Our rugby league is very expansive and we’ll look to play a similar game this weekend.”
Harris is confident that Wales will get a lot of support from the home crowd as they look took to take their fifth European title and their first in 14 years.
“The support we’ve had in our first two home games so far has been pretty good,” Harris admits. “Two and half thousand on an absolute miserable evening weather-wise in Pontypridd last Sunday was fantastic to see and they certainly cheered on our young guys. Hopefully they’ll come out again and give us support as it means a lot to the players.”
The Brewery Field was the scene of the World Cup qualifier three years ago that many believe was the main reason for Wales’ exit from the competition. Scotland won 21-14 in Bridgend in 2006 in a World Cup qualifier that Harris missed through injury. Wales did win the second leg 18-16 up in Glasgow but Scotland went through to the 2008 Finals with a 37-32 aggregate win.
However it could be a different story come this Sunday as the Welsh national side has gone through a complete revamp.
Just two players, Jordan James and Ian Watson, survive from that defeat while the backroom staff also went through a makeover following the disappointment of not being in Australia last year.
Harris, assistant coach to John Dixon in the Welsh squad last year received an unexpected promotion following the Australian’s departure and has been one of the men who has reinstalled passion and pride into wearing the Welsh jersey.
“It’s been magnificent to see so many Welsh-born youngsters who are professional rugby league players and really want to play for Wales,” Harris says. “They’re all very enthusiastic and are feeling pretty confident, as they should do from their performance last week.
“Scotland will be a different challenge, they’re very physical, they’ve got a lot of older guys in their camp who have experienced heads on their shoulders so they’re going to challenge us from different areas. However we’ve got a young group who are excited about the prospects of playing in a major final and want to take that opportunity with both hands. It’s an exciting time, there are going to some rollercoaster rides along the way over the next two or three years but this is certainly a high at this stage for them.”
Harris will also assist new Crusaders coach Brian Noble in Super League for the next two years and he has been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many of his new club squad with Wales over this last month.
“It’s pleasing to see so many coming through from the Crusaders as that can only be good for the game down here in Wales,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent there but there’s a lot of roughness on them that we need to try and smooth out over the next couple of years. They’ve certainly got ability and we need to try and work on them in the physical and speed departments over the next two years. We, at the Crusaders, have got some really good prospects from the guys who have played in this team.”
Three years ago, there were just five Welsh-born players in the squad. This year there are double that amount with half the 20-man squad being born in Wales and another four living in the country.
One of the Welsh-born players is newly appointed skipper Ben Flower. The former Newport Gwent Dragons youngster missed last week’s 42-12 win over Ireland through injury but Harris is hopeful that he will take to the field against Scotland this Sunday.
Harris said: “Ben Flower’s okay. He’s trained the last couple of days. He’s still running a bit gingerly but we’re expecting him to be passed fit.
“We’ve a couple of guys that we need to check up on before game day but we’re expecting them to pull through so we should have a full compliment of players.
“We had a lot of quality who can come in right now. I thought Lewis Mills took his opportunity really well when he came off the bench. He’s a young lad and we’ve got a lot of youngsters who are raring to go and wanting to play for Wales, so when Ben dropped out it just became somebody else’s opportunity. That’s the good thing about this squad, everyone’s so enthusiastic and raring to go.”
Tickets for the rugbyleague.com European Cup Final between Wales and Scotland, priced from £5 for concessions and £10 for adults can be bought by going to www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk or by calling 0844 856 1115.
This ticket will allow entry into all three games:
10.30am - Relegation Match - Serbia v Italy - The Old Parish, Maesteg RFC
12.15pm – Ranking Match - Lebanon v Ireland - Brewery Field, Bridgend
4.00pm – European Cup Final - Wales v Scotland - Brewery Field, Bridgend (on Sky Sports 3 from 3.30pm)
WALES (from): Matt Barron (Gateshead Thunder), Ashley Bateman (Celtic Crusaders), Chris Beasley (Celtic Crusaders), Neil Budworth (Celtic Crusaders), Geraint Davies (Celtic Crusaders), Ross Divorty (Featherstone Rovers), Gil Dudson (Celtic Crusaders), Ben Flower (Celtic Crusaders), Rhys Griffiths (Leeds Met), Jordan James (Celtic Crusaders), Elliot Kear (Celtic Crusaders), Lewis Mills (Celtic Crusaders), Christiaan Roets (Bridgend Blue Bulls), Matt Thomas (London Skolars), Ross Wardle (Celtic Crusaders), Ian Watson (Leigh Centurions), Ian Webster (Central Comets), Lloyd White (Celtic Crusaders), Lee Williams (Celtic Crusaders), Rhys Williams (Warrington Wolves).