Harrison desperate to get back to his best at Saints

Teimana Harrison always knew it would be tough to replicate last season's success story.

Thursday, 15th December 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th December 2016, 11:22 am
Teimana Harrison was a second-half replacement against Leinster last Friday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

As he stood at Franklin’s Gardens during the pre-season media day, he discussed the standards he set after the previous campaign’s stellar showings.

He knew opposition teams would take more notice of him and he knew he would have to keep improving to keep his place in the Saints team.

But three months into the campaign, Harrison finds himself with a real fight to get back into the back row.

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The arrival of Louis Picamoles has shut the door with the number eight on it, and with Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood, Calum Clark, Ben Nutley and Lewis Ludlam providing competition for the six and seven shirts, it has not been easy for the New Zealand-born forward.

Harrison has still been involved with England, representing the nation during the recent Old Mutual Wealth Series and scoring his first Red Rose try in a rout of Fiji.

But though he has loved every second of his time with Eddie Jones’ men, being away from Franklin’s Gardens has not done him any favours as he seeks to cement his place in his club’s first 15.

Now Harrison, who really began to establish himself in the side last December following an injury to Tom Wood, is desperate to show his true colours once again.

“The season so far has been a little bit frustrating,” Harrison said. “I’d liked to have been playing more, but it’s down to me.

“I need to get back to how I was last season, running over people, making busts, but I’ll get back there, I’ve just got to keep working hard and I’m sure I’ll be there.”

So why does Harrison feel he hasn’t been as effective during the first half of this season?

“I’m not too sure to be honest,” he said. “Last season I was playing more as an eight so there was that ability to run and you’re more of an attacking threat than defensive.

“This season, being away with England, they’ve wanted me more at seven so I’ve played more as a flanker and it’s been more defence focused, which is good though.

“One of my things speaking with Eddie is that I need to get into the game through more different avenues, not just carrying.

“Defensively, I feel like I can adjust to wherever I’m playing.”

On the competition for places at Saints, he said: “You look at the back row and you’ve got all international players, bar two, so it is tough.

“Rotation comes round and if you’re not on form you don’t get that shot you usually would.

“Last season, I was very lucky with the amount of injuries and everything, but it’s going to be an amazing challenge for me this season and I’m still looking forward to it.

“It’s easy to hide things when you’re playing well. People look over and see that (you’re playing well), but when it’s hard, you start getting called out for the mistakes you make and you start getting exploited where you’re weak.

“It is good learning but just tough to be part of.”

So is it fair to say Harrison feels he is now a marked man, having been Saints’ double player of the year last season and having won four England caps?

“To a certain extent,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m one of the guys to massively look out for, but I do feel I’m getting shut down a lot quicker, whereas last season I think I got a bit more time on the ball and could make decisions.

“But with rugby, you’ve got to keep adapting and if you don’t learn, you get left behind.

“I’m surrounded by good people who are willing to help me.”

Harrison will now look to make a big statement in Saints colours against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.

Jim Mallinder’s men won at the ground three years ago, having gone into that game on the back of a 40-7 thrashing by the Irish side a week earlier.

They were beaten 37-10 by Leinster at the Gardens last Friday and will now look to produce another big reaction.

“It was the same with Racing last year,” Harrison said. “We went over there and got spanked, but then we drew with one of the better teams in European rugby.

“I think we will get a good reaction this weekend.

“We’ve got boys who are hungry to play and want to put their names down to play week in, week out.

“We’ve got the Prem coming up with Sale just before Christmas and we want to get on a good roll to go into the New Year flying.”

Saints will welcome back Kieran Brookes and Clark from suspension for the Dublin clash.

And Harrison said: “The input these guys have and the power they bring is amazing.

“It’s always good to have guys like that ready to go.”

And they certainly aren’t the only ones if Harrison’s desire-fuelled words are anything to go by.