Five months after being hauled off after just 31 minutes on his second Test appearance, Teimana Harrison has been charged with the essential role of being England’s blockade against Fiji on Saturday.
First-half tactical substitutions are a rare thing in Test rugby but Jones made two during their June series against Australia with Luther Burrell getting that treatment in the first match and Harrison in the third.
“I don’t see it as a big deal,” was Eddie Jones’ take when asked if the players were mentally scarred from the experience. It is a view said to be echoed by the team but only Harrison knows exactly how much it affected him ahead of his third start at openside for England against the Islanders at Twickenham.
Dylan Hartley, England captain and was also in the same school as Harrison in Rotorua, knows the flanker well.
He brought him to Northampton, chartered his meteoric rise from academy obscurity to his Test debut against Wales in May and would have kept a watchful eye on Harrison in the changing room after his substitution ignominy.
“Eddie said to him after the game in the changing room that it was a decision for the team,” Hartley said of Harrison. “Coaches make decisions on behalf of the team and that is what they thought we needed at the time.
“Tei is a young guy. He had a brilliant first season for Northampton. He has been told, like we all have, to improve in certain areas and he has gone and done that.”
Jones doesn’t necessarily follow rugby’s traditional narrative. On Friday he talked of how England have only had 31 “great players” in their history, as they were the group that won the World Cup — a statement which swipes aside those who played before the quadrennial tournament started in 1987.
And then there is Elliot Daly. Though he is usually found in the centres, Daly is on the wing on Saturday despite having started just five of his 92 Aviva Premiership games for Wasps on the flank.
Teimana Harrison will win his third cap for England on Saturday. David Rogers/Getty Images
First-half substitutions are also a break from the norm and it was surprising that he singled out Harrison’s showing in Northampton’s heavy 41-7 Champions Cup loss at Castres back in October as the best performance he had seen from a “No.7 in a Premiership team”.
It was this match along with Harrison’s off-field work which has seen him given another chance to impress after his Northampton teammate Tom Wood performed well in the openside role last week.
“He’s physically better equipped. He has gone back and put on a couple of kilos,” Jones said. “He’s worked particularly on his tackled technique.
“He did a lot of good work with [England defence coach] Paul Gustard and with [coaching consultant and Melbourne Storm coach] Jason Ryles in Portugal.”
Jones recognises Harrison’s rise has been rapid, but wants him to embrace the physical and mental challenges of Test rugby, starting with Saturday’s task of stopping Fiji’s attacking threat.
“He needs to be a stopper,” Jones said. “He needs to stop the Fijians on the gainline. That’s what Haskell’s done so well for us and now he’s in the three-piece suit and looking very good.
“We need another guy not in the three-piece suit to stop opposition on the gainline.
“Tom Wood did a great job for us last week; we are looking to see how we can increase the depth in that No.7 role.”
With James Haskell, Mike Williams, Sam Jones and Jack Clifford all injured and Wood hopeful of returning to the openside role for the Test against Argentina on Nov. 26, there is fierce competition for the No.7 shirt.
Harrison’s audition will be on Saturday and he is challenged by Jones to take his next step to greatness
“We want to produce great players,” Jones said. “Every player tomorrow has an opportunity to get on the path to being a great player. If Teimana does it his selection increases. It’s it the same for every player.”
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