Euro­pean ex­ploits thrill late bloomer Har­ris

De­sire and drive key for Scot­land in­ter­na­tional and his New­cas­tle team, writes Mick Cleary

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

New­cas­tle Fal­cons cen­tre Chris Har­ris has the per­fect back­ground as an ar­chi­tec­ture grad­u­ate to ap­pre­ci­ate the worth of lay­ing proper foun­da­tions and con­struct­ing a bright fu­ture.

As a late de­vel­oper, tak­ing rugby se­ri­ously only mid­way through his stud­ies at Northum­bria Univer­sity, gain­ing a con­tract with the Fal­cons and go­ing on to win the first of his six Scot­land caps last year, Har­ris is well aware, too, of the im­por­tance of tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and max­imis­ing the mo­ment.

As with the 27-year-old, so too with the Fal­cons, the sur­prise pack­age of this year’s Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup, al­ready con­querors of Toulon and Mont­pel­lier and head­ing to Ed­in­burgh tonight in the same sort of buc­ca­neer­ing mood. New­cas­tle may be prop­ping up the Premier­ship, but their con­fi­dence is high and ap­petite whet­ted for a Euro­pean ad­ven­ture.

“We had noth­ing to lose in Europe,” said Har­ris, part of the Fal­cons team who qual­i­fied for the elite com­pe­ti­tion for the first time in 14 years by dint of their fourth­placed fin­ish in the Premier­ship. “Every­one said we were in a tough group, but for us it was ex­cit­ing. We had worked so hard to get there that we were de­ter­mined to make the most of it. There was no pres­sure on us, only the de­sire within to show what we were about. We’re go­ing up to Mur­ray­field to give it a real crack and see where that takes us.”

Har­ris’s path­way is un­usual in the mod­ern era, in which so many young­sters are hot-housed in academies and sent out along a well-signed road to pro­fes­sional rugby. The Carlisle-born Har­ris, who qual­i­fies for Scot­land through an Ed­in­burgh grand­mother, had no as­pi­ra­tions to make a ca­reer from the sport and even gave up play­ing univer­sity rugby as he bumped around the col­lege third and fourth XVS. Har­ris con­cen­trated on his stud­ies and turned out for lo­cal club Tynedale.

Even­tu­ally, word got out and Fal­cons scouts came look­ing. He was of­fered a trial and terms. He com­pleted his four-year de­gree, then turned his mind fully to his un­her­alded sport­ing pro­fes­sion. But the dream is to help Fal­cons pros­per and to build on his fledg­ling in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

“Get­ting picked for Scot­land has done Chris a power of good,” said New­cas­tle head coach Dave Walder. “It has helped make him re­alise what he was ca­pa­ble of. He has come out of his shell. He used to have a nice, light-hearted ap­proach to it all. He now re­alises what it takes to get to the next level and is push­ing to get there.”

Har­ris, com­fort­able play­ing wing as well as cen­tre, is rel­ish­ing a re­turn to Mur­ray­field, even if the stands will be less pop­u­lated than when he fea­tured in two of Scot­land’s matches there re­cently.

“Mur­ray­field is a bril­liant sta­dium with a fan­tas­tic sur­face and the boys are look­ing for­ward to the ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Har­ris. “There’s a lot of de­sire and drive in this Fal­cons team. For us, it’s about putting all that out there and us­ing the belief we’ve drawn from win­ning in Toulon and then get­ting past Mont­pel­lier.” That lung-bust­ing ef­fort, New­cas­tle edg­ing the game at the death after a never-say-die ef­fort that went through 39 phases, be­fore Cal­lum Chick’s try clinched a 23-20 vic­tory over the former French cham­pi­ons, has im­pacted on the squad.

“Win­ning tough stays with you,” said Har­ris. “We know we can come through no mat­ter what.”

This back-to-back round of fix­tures will re­veal Fal­cons’ true worth, all the more so in that they have a spate of in­juries, in­clud­ing a cri­sis at tight­head prop.

New­cas­tle’s short bus ride to Ed­in­burgh is a re­ward for per­se­ver­ance to get to this el­e­vated point, the value of which Har­ris knows bet­ter than most.

Fired up: Chris Har­ris is fly­ing high for Fal­cons

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.