Mike Harris prepared to make Wallabies debut

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 06:00 01/06/2012
Mike Harris
Getty Images

MIKE HARRIS: "There's been a few injuries in the 10 jersey so hopefully it's not cursed but hopefully if I get a chance I can give it a crack."

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The time spent secretly learning "Advance Australia Fair" while studying at a finishing school for future All Blacks should ensure Mike Harris doesn't fluff his lines when he makes his test debut for the Wallabies.

The 23-year-old obviously muted his interest in Australia's national anthem while at Westlake Boys High School on Auckland's North Shore -- his admiration for Stephen Larkham and George Gregan was also a private matter for an aspiring rugby star with ancestry on either side of the Tasman.

In the mid to late 1980s the third formers dreamt of emulating Westlake old boy Franco Botica by wearing the black No.10 jersey.

Then Nick Evans and Luke McAlister were players to aspire to, though Harris was always comfortable with the possibility of representing the Wallabies.

So as the moment draws near - it could occur against Scotland in Newcastle on Tuesday night - the former North Harbour five-eighth had no qualms about expressing his pride in playing for the All Blacks arch-rivals.

Unlike most of his classmates: "Growing up I had a lot of respect for the Wallabies. Stephen Larkham and George Gregan were phenomenal ball players," Harris confessed.

"I quite liked the Australian anthem too, I learned it during high school.

"I don't know if my school mates were aware I always had a foot in both camps, it's not something you talked about during lunchtime rugby."

Harris is one of 15 uncapped players featuring in a 39-man training camp and is a strong contender to start at first five-eighth against the Six Nations strugglers at Hunter Stadium.

Although Quade Cooper has declared himself ready, Robbie Deans might delay the mercurial playmaker's test comeback given he has only logged 120 minutes of game time since limping off Eden Park with a serious knee injury during the World Cup's third and fourth place play-off last October.

Harris was coy about his prospects ahead of the team naming on Sunday but happy to expand on a trans-Tasman move that has reinvigorated his career.

"I'm very proud to be named (in the squad) and hopefully get a chance to put the jersey on.

"The family are very supportive," he insisted, including, no doubt the relative that made his selection possible -- Australian-born grandmother Marion O'Connell.

"She's been in hospital recently so I haven't caught up with her but Mum was going to break the news. I'm sure she'll be over the moon."

Since making the squad Harris has been able to reflect on those who had moulded his career since that first game as a five-year-old.

"It's been nice to be able to sit back and think about all the people that have helped me along the way ...I want to say a big thank-you to all those people."

Loathe to name names, Harris said his greatest supporters were his family, friends, past and current coaches.

Former All Black Jeff Wilson was a positive influence at North Harbour while it was the under seige Pat Lam's insistence that Harris was only worthy of a place in the Blues wider training group that accelerated his progression to test football.

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Frustrated at being unable to crack Super Rugby with his home franchise, Harris switched to Queensland last year and achieved the desired result.

And although injury ruled him out of the Reds charge to their inaugural title, it was still a successful debut season for Harris who more than justified Ewen McKenzie's faith.

Not long ago Harris played age group rugby for New Zealand alongside Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford and Sam Whitelock; Cooper, Beale, Rod Davies and Rob Simmons lined up for the Junior Wallabies.

Now friend is foe, not that Harris sees changing sides as especially significant.

"It's the nature of professional sport. Just because you're born in a country doesn't mean you're there for life. It's been happening for many years with the Polynesian boys."

- Stuff

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