'When Cockers was here he'd send Greg Bateman or Fraser Balmain running around the posts every day just for being fat'
It’s safe to say that Sam Harrison is taking the new you for the new year challenge rather seriously in 2020. He could easily have stuck with the status quo and kept collecting the Leicester cheque that has been his way of life since making his Tigers first-team debut way back in 2000/09 thanks to injuries to Harry Ellis and Julien Dupuy.
However, he has committed to an ambitious leap of fate that should make rugby players everywhere sit up and take notice. With his body still in decent nick, there was potentially years left yet in his playing career. Instead, he is packing it all in at the age of 29 and embarking on an alternative adventure on the other side of the world.
“It either says I am stupid or that I am willing to try something new and take a risk,” he pondered when asked by RugbyPass to sum up what people should make of his decision to jack it all in at Leicester and relocate lock, stock and barrel to the Australian Gold Coast to do something completely different.
“I have always had interests outside of rugby that I always wanted to pursue more and more because I have been doing small bits of carpentry at home and started up my own little business a few years ago [Harrison Made] just making homeware and stuff out of timber.
“More and more I have found myself wanting to do that and I am on the right side of 30, so why not do it now? For me, it was just more the right time. Obviously, I have got kids as well who are only just in school so say if I was to wait another few years, it gets harder and harder to do a move like this so just timing-wise it all seems like the right time really.”
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Sam Harrison was one of the senior Leicester players to contribute to The Academy, the six-part RugbyPass documentary series on how the club develops its youth
He won’t miss the media side of being a rugby player. “I’ll be glad it is over. As lovely as all the journalists are you get tired of it, I suppose. You [RugbyPass] are officially my last interview so I’m going to give this one my all,” he breezily declared in midweek at the end of a busy media session where he was in huge demand at Oval Park.
“I haven’t been given any interesting ones [questions] really if I am honest. They have all been, ‘Why are you leaving?’ I have been explaining myself all day.”
Let’s take a different tack then. What message does quitting so young send out to his sport, especially to youngsters in the highly regarded Tigers academy who are dreaming of having the career Harrison is nonchalantly turning his back on this Saturday when he makes his last Gallagher Premiership appearance off the bench?
Room 101 ??. So lucky to be able to play one last time at welford road tomorow! ?? https://t.co/anTOJHfDAy
— Sam Harrison (@ShazamHarrison) January 3, 2020
“We have got a new changing room now which has been good, all the young players are in there as well so a lot of them have asked me and maybe my decision might open up the eyes of some of the young lads – or even older lads – that you don’t have to play rugby until your body gives up.
“That is something that is sort of cliched. The cliched thing is you keep playing until your body packs it in and I never really wanted to do that. Hopefully, other people will now do that as well. Even if you don’t have passions outside of rugby and rugby is your one and only love, you do have to have something else in the fire and luckily I have managed to sort of leave the game on my terms.
“Obviously there has been a lot of players who haven’t been able to do it that way. I’m sure there have been players who have retired who have struggled because they haven’t had stuff they have pursued. More and more, academy players are being made aware of that and I definitely know that here, Leicester along with the RPA [Rugby Players’ Association] make them pursue other activities outside of rugby other than playing on PlayStation.
The process. pic.twitter.com/NAlT46p1Vn
— Harrison Made (@harrison_made) January 25, 2017
“For me, it was just getting to that point where I would make my interests my job and make rugby my pastime. I thought Australia is a nice country, I can speak the language and it is nice weather… I have a few mates over there and I have got a mate in the area I want to live. I went over there in the summer, met a few people and sort of blagged a job. My wife has never been but she has taken my word for it that it is nice.
“We’re going to the Gold Coast, just south of it, and I’m doing carpentry. A lot of it I haven’t actually sorted yet. I’m meeting the bloke over there who I met in the summer. We have been in constant communication on email and stuff. It is very much going to be making my own way I suppose and seeing how it goes really. It is a bit of a risk but hopefully it pays off.”
With flowing locks and multiple tattoos, Harrison has cultivated a hard man look during his years as a Leicester scrum-half. Beneath that tough guy exterior, though, there are sure to be teary emotions when the final whistle blows at Welford Road and the local boy who did good takes the farewell salute of the home crowd.
“It will definitely be emotional,” he admitted. “I’ve got about 30 mates coming. I have got all my family coming and stuff, but I am more focused on the game, it’s just a big game for the club really. It couldn’t be a better week to go out on with such a big game.”
Tigers certainly need the points given their precarious position near the foot of the Premiership and while Harrison will no longer be part of the furniture when that battle for safety is resumed post-Bristol at Bath on January 25, he will be heartily roaring them on from afar.
“Obviously I am going to slowly turn into being a fan. I am probably going to give all the lads a load of abuse online and stuff like that. That is going to be an adjustment. Then I will have to watch the games at four AM or something silly. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.”
He isn’t sure which dressing room pals he will be cheering on the most. “I don’t know. I don’t want to say until I am a fan because I want to make my own mind up once I am a fan. I don’t want to jinx myself.” What he will admit, though, is how memories of the banter he experienced over the years will always generate a smile if he is ever feeling homesick while adjusting to life down under.
“When Cockers [Richard Cockerill] was here he’d send either Greg Bateman or Fraser Balmain running around the posts just for being fat pretty much every day,” he quipped when asked for any particular standout memory.
“That will always be something that will make me laugh because it is hilarious. Yeah, a lot of Cockers was… for me as a half-back, he was quite kind to me but when he wasn’t so kind of other players. it was quite amusing to me. But there are hundreds of examples of good memories here that I will remember when the time comes.”
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