Scorer of the most important penalty goal in Austral-Welsh relations, MIKE HARRIS has continued to return a heavy dividend on the ‘investment’ made in him by Australian Rugby after he crossed the Tasman two years ago.
The former New Zealand Under-20 rep came into the Qantas Wallabies side for the final two Tests of last year’s domestic program in the unfamiliar position of fullback and proceeded to make telling contributions as Australia beat Argentina at Rosario before then halting New Zealand’s 16-game winning streak by holding the All Blacks to a draw in Brisbane.
The goal-kicking-sharpshooter’s reward for those performances was a position on the 2012 Spring Tour, where he featured against France and Wales. Last year’s selection provided confirmation that Harris made the right decision when he rolled the dice by moving to Queensland in 2011.
The Harris success has been based on resilience, which he showed in spades by coming on in the final moments to kick Australia to victory against Wales in Melbourne last year, just 10 days after he had endured a difficult debut for his adopted country against Scotland on a treacherous Newcastle night where back play was almost impossible, and goal kicking exceptionally difficult. Australia was upset in the match, but Harris showed that the experience hadn’t unnerved him when called onto the field late in the second Test of the subsequent series against Wales.
After taking the field with eight minutes remaining and Australia trailing, Harris stepped up confidently as the Wallabies won a penalty nearly 40m out on a wide angle, after the final siren. Not only did the 24-year-old not hesitate in wanting to take the kick, he never looked like fluffing his lines, as the ball sailed true, handing Australia a dramatic 25-23 victory, and the Six Nations Champions a series defeat.
The accuracy of his goal-kicking while in the Gold jersey has been such that he finished his maiden Test year having kicked 17 of 20 attempts for Australia (85%).
Harris missed much of the 2013 Super Rugby schedule due to injury, featuring in less than half the Reds’ fixtures for the season. This marred his chances of selection for the Wallabies squad to face the British & Irish Lions, but he was still able to add an historic occasion to his personal Rugby résumé, as he came off the bench for the Reds against the Lions.
Harris played four seasons and 43 games for North Harbour in the premier division of New Zealand’s NPC competition, contributing 289 points, before opting to try his luck in Australia. The change was motivated by the lack of an opportunity within his ‘home’ franchise, the Blues.
Capable at flyhalf, inside centre and now developing as a fullback; Harris proved an admirable foil for Quade Cooper’s extravagance at the Reds, while his defence patrolling the midfield channel more than stood up to the test.
A former Under-20 rep for New Zealand, Harris attended the inaugural age–group championships wearing black in 2008. He played one match during the Kiwis’ tournament win at the 2008 Under-20s, featuring in a side which included All Black graduates Zac Guildford and Sam Whitelock. Twenty-four of that team have subsequently played Super Rugby.
His three games for NZ Schools in 2006 reaped three wins. Among his colleagues in that team were the future All Blacks Israel Dagg, Guildford and Whitelock. Seventeen of that roster have since made their way into Super Rugby ranks. Harris twice played against his now team-mate Cooper in age-group Rugby, once during the regional Roller Mills schools tournament in New Zealand, and then during the annual trans-Tasman schoolboys clash, when Harris piloted New Zealand while Cooper directed the Australian Schools backline.
His exploits as a goal-kicker were on show even prior to his Qantas Wallabies selection, at one stage kicking 24 straight for the Reds before he finally missed a goal. More than a goal-kicker, it has been his all-round performance which has highlighted the folly of the Blues’ selection team, who chose to recruit from outside of the Auckland-based franchise’s borders, as opposed to giving Harris a run.
It is a testament to the Harris influence since coming to Queensland that he was sorely missed when ruled out for five weeks by a hamstring strain during last year’s Super Rugby season. Harris qualifies for the Wallabies on heritage grounds as his grandmother was born in Australia.
FAST FACT: When he made his Test debut against Scotland last year, Mike Harris joined the 1991 Rugby World Cup-winner Willie Ofahengaue, and current front-rower Sekope Kepu, as a senior Australian representative after first having played age-group Rugby for New Zealand.