Italy v Scotland: Gregor Townsend backs Chris Harris for his warrior spirit

Centre may not set pulses racing as Huw Jones and Rory Hutchinson do, but he showed in Japan that he is a man to be counted on

Chris Harris is a controversial choice at outside centre for Scotland's crucial match against Italy. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Chris Harris is a controversial choice at outside centre for Scotland's crucial match against Italy. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

THE problem with Chris Harris, as far as a lot of Scottish fans are concerned, seems to relate to who he isn’t, rather than who he is.

He is not Huw Jones, who became the darling of Murrayfield’s masses with 10 tries from the first 14 games of his international career, during which time he accumulated enough credit in the bank to withstand the fairly barren period that has followed. The memory of that stunning brace he scored against England in 2018 – the national team’s greatest day under Gregor Townsend – lives on (never mind the fact that he has not looked like crossing the whitewash in his 11 matches since then).

And he is not Rory Hutchinson – the in-form Northampton Saints utility-back – who has impressed off the bench in three World Cup warm-up games and against Ireland at the start of this Six Nations, but is yet to start a full-blooded Test match. He’s a man with a big future, but in the age of ‘starters’ and ‘finishers’ we shouldn’t get overly concerned about having his game-breaking creativity ready to make an impact off the bench on this occasion.


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Maybe Harris doesn’t get the heart beating like Jones and Hutchinson can do when they are on a roll – but that doesn’t render him a lame duck. When things were unravelling in Japan, there was a number of individuals who went missing, and some who stepped up to be counted – Harris was in the latter of those two categories.

Like all warriors, Harris could well find himself discarded in times of peace, but that’s not where Scotland are at the moment. He is the pragmatic choice … but maybe that is exactly what is required.

Scotland have a job to do in Italy. They’d like to win – but they must not lose. They don’t need to bring home rosettes for artistic merit, they need to be sure that the outside centre channel is a closed door. They don’t need magic, they need a guy who will run hard, and fight with every fibre he has got to gain every single yard available.

“His work-rate is outstanding, he gets himself involved to make more tackles, to get on ball and he’s a very good defender,” said Townsend, when justifying his selection for Saturday’s must-win game against Italy in Rome. “In terms of his attack and his running lines, he’s improved every year – he’s a more all-round player.”

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“Chris has been excellent for his club this year. He got the starting spot during the World Cup by how he played in the build-up and how he trained. I thought he was outstanding against Samoa [in Japan] and he’s carried on that form and added parts to his game with Gloucester [this season].

For too long now, Scotland have been nice to watch and nice to play against. Soft-centred assassins – deadly enough, but just as likely to shoot themselves in the foot as take down the opposition. After the World Cup debacle, we wanted them to be tougher – and Harris, at this stage in the team’s evolution, is the embodiment of that. You are not going to get progress without sacrifice.

“There was a really close decision around him and Huw [Jones] for this week but also for the first couple of games,” Townsend added. “We believe this is the right game for Chris to come in. This is the 23 which we believe gives us the best opportunity to win at the weekend.

“Huw got the nod in the first few games due to the form he’s been showing for Glasgow. It’s going to be a very competitive position with other centres coming into the mix over the next few years. Chris now has the opportunity to start the remaining two games.”

Skinner needs game time

Townsend added that Exeter Chiefs forward Sam Skinner had not made it into the squad this week because he has now got enough game time under his belt since recovering from the hamstring injury which wiped out his World Cup ambitions.

“He has trained with us the last few days, but we don’t believe he’s had enough game time for Exeter,” said the coach.

“He came off the bench at the weekend, he played three games for the A team prior to that, and he should play more games in the coming weeks which will put him in a stronger position for our final two games.”

Townsend added that Darcy Graham had not sufficiently recovered from the knee injury which kept hm out of the first two Six Nations games in time for this match. “He wasn’t in contention at all because he’s not fully fit,” said the coach.


Italy v Scotland: Chris Harris, Stuart McInally and Ben Toolis given starts

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1776 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

14 Comments

  1. Like a pravda article ..wondering, if the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was awful and we lost. Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  2. wondering, if the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was awful and we lost. Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  3. Correct Wondering if the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was poor and we lost. Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  4. Wondering if the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was poor and we lost. Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  5. Did the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was poor and we lost. Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  6. Did the person that wrote this actually watch the Japan world cup debacle – Japan exploited Harris ruthlessly his defence was poor and we lost.
    Starting the game today today without 5 available arguably best key players- one is without doubt the best in the world- is also another reason the coach and the team is under pressure.

  7. So deflating that with the likes of Jones, Hutchison, Bennett, Taylor, Scott available we seem to always circle back to this Chris Harris under this current regime. In his 10 caps he has had one stand out moment, in a world cup warm up match against France. I would love for this guy to prove me wrong but just so convinced he is nothing more than a decent honest club pro, certainly not a line breaking test 13…

  8. Good to see Townsend introducing new talent,I would have liked to have seen Scott,Horne brothers selected in the Starting 15 ?? There should have been mandatory change at the half backs Hastings and Price, 2 defeats in a row, no trys only losing bonus points keeping us from bottom position in the 6 nations table.
    In an article I read this week it stated with Russell playing the chance of a win is 57% without Russell playing 40%.

    • The one I feel sorry for is Matt Scott. In great try-scoring form for Edinburgh, and pretty good in defence too, with that 15 stone frame.

  9. GT has to go. The finn saga should have been put to bed weeks ago. You can’t have him part of the leadership group then make decisions while he’s on route to join the camp.
    Harris isn’t international quality yet seems to be already picked for wales and france. Play Hutchinson. He’s In Form. Duncan weir should be on the bench as he’s been unbelievable for Worcester.

    Nick haining. Best player against Ireland but now because mummy’s boy Bradbury is back he gets picked ahead and haining is back with Edinburgh.

    The whole set up needs looking at. And that starts with Dodson at the top. Scottish rugby as a whole is turning into a very toxic environment.

  10. World Cup turned out so well. Midfield selection justified. ‘Chris now has opportunity to start remaining two games’ so somehow he’s already picked for the rest of the tournament??? Time for GT to go. Forza Azzurri!

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