CHRIS HARRIS didn’t quite deviate from the party line earlier today [Friday] when he reflected on his lack of recent game time for Scotland, but he did offer a refreshing glimpse of honesty when asked how he felt about going from near certain pick and a Lions tourist to peripheral squad member and hype man in almost the blink of an eye.
“There’s a bit of a difference between the boys being well-connected and getting on with each other, and then there’s the playing side of things,” reflected the 32-year-old, who has been named at outside centre to play Tonga on Sunday, for only his second Scotland start since last November. “There’s still plenty of competition in all positions. I’m obviously delighted to be playing this weekend. It’s been tough not being involved as much and just watching the boys playing. It’s been a bit shite, to be honest.
“But I’ve just kept my head down and tried to be as professional as I can in terms of helping the rest of the boys. I’ve got my opportunity this weekend and I’m just massively looking forward to it.”
“What’s it like to go from first choice and a Lion, to now being more of a squad player? It wasn’t ideal,” he added. “But even after the Lions tour, I still played an Autumn Series and a full Six Nations.
“I didn’t go on the summer tour last year, and then Sione [Tuipulotu] and Huw [Jones] were playing well together for Glasgow. They got a shot and played well. There was nothing I could really do about it. It was tough to take, but it’s just one of those things.
“That’s professional sport. These things happen. People get rotated and other people get opportunities. It was similar to when I got a shot initially a few years ago. I took my opportunity, someone else missed out, and I stayed in the team for a while.
‘That’s sport – it’s either fight or flight. That happened in the Six Nations [when Tuipulotu and Jones started their partnership with Scotland]. I suppose it maybe gave me a kick up the arse, however you want to look at it. I just put my head down, grafted, and worked on a few bits.
“I like to think I’m a better player off the back of it. I just want to make my mark this weekend and make sure I take the opportunity.”
A recurring theme of Harris’ international career is that he is his strength is a real asset while his attack is not quite up to the same standard. It is perception that bigs him for obvious reasons, and he bites back when it is suggested that one of those ‘work-ons’ he has referred to be might be to be more like Huw Jones, the corrustaching attacker with a dubious defensive record who has risen back to prominence during this calendar year after a couple of seasons in the wilderness.
‘No, I’m not trying to be anyone else – I just want to be the best player I can be,” he retorts. “Every player has different attributes. I’d like to think I still have an attacking game. I went on a Lions tour and I’d like to think it was for more than just my defence. I’ve been working on my attacking game for a long time and it’s still a big focus for me.
“People have perceptions, the media have perceptions, that’s up to them. I’m not fussed about what people think. They can think what they want. I’ aware of where I was and where I am now, and as I’ve said I just want to be the best player I can be, and work on those little bits I need to work on.”
There was a glimpse of that attacking play Harris is referring to when he came off the bench against Georgia in Scotland’s final World Cup warm-up match.
“I got about 20 minutes which was good,” he says. “I enjoyed that. There was a little bit of frustration with the lack of involvement, but I just wanted to prove a point and make my mark, like I want to do this weekend.
“But I’m not forgetting the fact that this is a team thing, this is not about me. I’ll help the team by me performing, putting myself out there and playing well.
“For me, this has been a weird build-up, because I played against Georgia then it has been four weeks since I last played.
“During the build-up to South Africa, I was effectively running as them so that felt like a long build-up, then we had a few days off and not really sure what is going on, then we had a few days of tough training before we knew what the team was, so it has been a bit of a weird build-up but it has been decent. We’ve had some good training and I’m just really excited now to get out there and start in a World Cup. It is something to really look forward to.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has explained that he has selected harris for this match to help deal with the threat posed by Tonga in the wide channels earlier in the match, and it is challenge he clearly relished.
“I’ve had a few games against Malakai [Fekitoa]. He’s a really canny player – and he’s experienced – so I’m looking forward to that battle,” said the Gloucester man. “And I’ve played a lot against Charles Piatau who is one of Bristol’s best players and someone we talked up during the week about what they bring. So we’re fully aware of what these boys are about and I‘m just looking forward to the challenge.”
“Our D [defence] system is very much a connected team, so it is not about flying up and getting him, but if an opportunity arises to go and make a spot then you maybe go for it. They’ve got brilliant footwork, a brilliant offloading game, so you just have to be ready for anything.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, man. Of course there’s pressure. There’s pressure in all games. It’s just a different type of pressure. You’ve got a choice when you’ve got pressure. You can either run away from it or embrace it.
“The boys are ready for it. We’ve got a brilliant mental skills coach [Aaron Walsh] who helps with all that sort of stuff, who prepares us for all different things in games and stuff. The boys are ready … the boys are ready, definitely.”