Chris continues career curve

Chris continues career curve

Having reached 22 caps for Scotland, it’s fair to say that Chris Harris is an important part of Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad, three years on from making his debut against Samoa in an explosive November Test at BT Murrayfield in a game that finished 44-38 to the hosts and one that contained no fewer than 11 tries.

In the time since, the Gloucester centre has featured in an incredible Calcutta Cup draw and featured at his first Rugby World Cup, in Japan in 2019. His life as an international player coincides with some pretty handy stats, too. Harris has only been on the losing side seven times in 22 games and was part of the winning efforts, against Italy, France, Wales (all in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations) Georgia (in an autumnal warmup match) and Italy (in Autumn Nations Cup).

It’s been quite a journey for the former Newcastle Falcons man, who hadn’t reckoned on playing international rugby until relatively late in his development.

Speaking to Scottish Rugby's, The Front Row magazine, Harris said, “I went to Northumbria University, playing for Tynedale in the final two years of that degree and had a few run-outs for the Falcons Academy. I injured my shoulder and was out for the best part of a season, then went on loan to Rotherham and that year I made my debut for Falcons first team in the European Challenge Cup [in 2014].

“I was playing between Falcons and Rotherham for a while, coming in for some European games and then just after Christmas in 2014, I replaced Alesana Tuilagi early in a Premiership game against Saracens. I ended up having a concussion so went off for an HIA, passed that, came back on and scored two late tries, so as far as debuts go it was pretty good – even though we actually drew the game!

“That led to some more game time but it was a slow burner, and then the season after I got much more involved.”

That whirlwind to the top table of English club rugby game was certainly not something Harris had anticipated when he embarked on life as a student back when he was a teenager.

He explained, “Rugby honestly wasn’t on the cards. I went to uni when I was 18 and I wasn’t in any academies or age-grade squads or anything like that. I played county level but that was about me until I went to Tynedale which was National One, which seemed like a big jump up to me.

“So when I finished uni it was straight into Falcons academy stuff. I did Architectural Technology so after that I would have been going to be something along the lines of that, something around the built environment.”

With a degree to his name already, Harris knows that it’s never been more important for professional players to ensure they are thinking about life after the game, whenever that may be.

He added: “I haven’t looked at my degree or what comes next but I’ll pick it back up when I stop playing, dip my toe in some capacity, although I’d like to think I have a few more years left in rugby yet, touch wood!”

Harris’ ascendancy to international honours was as rapid as his rise to the professional game, with Head Coach Gregor Townsend picking him for Scotland duty only a couple of years since making his full Falcons debut.

The centre, who can also operate on the wing, explained: “I think from memory I got a call from [former Director of Rugby] Scott Johnson about my eligibility about a year before I got selected for the 2017 Autumn series. I remember I got a text from Gregor after a European game with Falcons saying ‘well played, just to let you know you’re going to be named in the squad for the autumn’.

“Coming into that camp I didn’t know any of the guys really; I actually had a few run-outs with Mike Blair with Falcons, which is funny given we’re both part of the Scotland set-up now – he was the only person I think I knew in my first camp in 2017.

Harris made his full debut against Samoa in that chaotic 44-38 win (a scholar of the game, he immediately knows when asked that fellow debutants that day were front row trio Darryl Marfo, George Turner and Jamie Bhatti) and then earned a first start against Wales in the following 6 Nations.

Further involvement around the 2018 Summer tour and Autumn Tests followed, before he featured consistently in a busy 2019 schedule, including that aforementioned Calcutta Cup feast at Twickenham and the World Cup later that year.

On that competition, Harris recalled:

“The whole build-up to the World Cup, being selected in the initial squad and then gain selection for the final 31. I was over the moon with that, absolutely buzzing, and then to play in all four games was an amazing experience. It was obviously gutting the way we went out but that aside, it was an incredible 2019 summer journey.”​

If 2020 represents something of a shift in sporting events, the return of international rugby has been something of a saving grace for players and fans the world over at such a difficult time.

Harris has featured against Georgia, Wales, Italy and France since the sport resumed in October and says the mood around the Scotland camp is ebullient, saying: “There’s a real buzz despite circumstances through coronavirus. But when it comes to training and selection, everyone wants to be involved over a really competitive campaign.

“At centre, there’s a lot of competition with myself, Langers [James Lang], Sammy J, Squiggsy [Nick Grigg], Huw – we all want to be playing but at the same time we all get on pretty well so we talk about stuff and better ourselves, which is part of what makes a team better.”

With 22 caps already to his name and plenty more to come, Chris Harris’ is a tale of a player who has really taken to every rugby challenge presented to him on his rugby journey so far.

Listen to the Official Scottish Rugby Podcast with Chris Harris to find out more about his journey to international rugby.

This article is from the second issue of The Front Row digital magazine - available exclusively to NEVIS and MACDUI members.

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