Harrison has loved Saints' summer of change

Teimana Harrison is enjoying the fresh start at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Teimana Harrison is enjoying the fresh start at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Teimana Harrison is rarely downbeat when he conducts an interview, but this pre-season there seems to be an even greater spring in his step.

The affable forward, like many of his team-mates, appears to have been reinvigorated by the raft of changes made at Franklin's Gardens this summer.

The arrival of a plethora of new players and, perhaps more importantly, a few new coaches, has lifted spirits at Saints.

There is a palpable optimism about the future, and Harrison embodies that renewed happiness.

"It's a different style of coaching, different voices, different plans coming into place and more a plan that suits the rugby players we have," said the 25-year-old.

"It has been a breath of fresh air.

"It's like everything, you get used to one style or one voice and to hear something new is like starting from the beginning.

"Your name means nothing. A new coach comes in, he knows what he wants and you've got to deliver what he wants rather than what the previous one wanted.

"It's a new challenge but it's also a really exciting one for us as a club."

Harrison is a player who never shirks a challenge, on or off the field.

And he is clearly relishing the clean slate he has been given at Saints.

But just where does he see himself, having impressed in all back row positions since making the breakthrough from the club's Academy?

"I'm still pretty flexible," said Harrison, who has won five England caps, being viewed primarily as a seven by national team boss Eddie Jones.

"If you look at our back row, we've got a lot of great sixes and sevens so I'd like to step up in the eight position.

"But at the same time, if I want to keep my England dreams alive, seven is probably the best place for me.

"The beauty of the back row is that eight only scrums at the back of the scrum and I can still get myself into a position where I'm competing for the ball as a seven.

"I can still get myself into carrying the ball like a six.

"I'm happy anywhere really.

"The coaches here at Saints haven't directly said where they want me to play.

"Reading in between the lines, we've got (James) Haskell, Jamie Gibson, Heinz (Brüssow), Lewis Ludlam - we've got so much depth at six or seven so I think the position for me will be eight."

Wherever he plays, Harrison would dearly love another season like the one that helped him rise to prominence at Saints.

The 2015/16 campaign remains his best to date, with Harrison scooping the breakthrough player, supporters’ player and players’ player of the year prizes at the end-of-season awards.

"I think I've come on massively since I first started," said the New Zealand-born ace.

"The past couple of years have been a bit slower progression from that first season I had in the first team.

"But I do think my overall game is improving and getting better, and that's down to the coaches focusing on me being more of a lineout forward so I can add that to my game.

"I'm also trying to get my running and defence better.

"I've still got miles and miles to go before I'm anywhere near the top guys, but I am improving as a player."

One man tasked with helping Harrison to improve will be his former team-mate Phil Dowson.

Dowson is now forwards coach at Saints, having been a key member of the playing squad for so many years.

But Harrison says the 36-year-old has had no problem making the transition from player to mentor.

"Dows is a very unique guy," Harrison said. "He knows how to talk to people and he knows how to switch from one of the boys to being a coach, and a lot of boys respect him for that.

"I certainly looked up to him when he was a player not so long ago.

"He's an amazing coach and we saw the impact he made as a defence coach last year.

"Just the way he motivates people and the way he presents himself means he is an awesome addition to the coaching team and I'm happy that he's stuck around as forwards coach.

"He was the leader behind the scenes when he was a player.

"He wasn't the captain all the time, but he kept people in line and he's got a way with words. He knows how to talk and he knows how to get his point across to everyone so everyone understands and buys into it.

"He's an awesome coach."

Harrison, Dowson and Co will now hope that Saints can build on a successful pre-season campaign, which saw them win three from three, when they travel to Gloucester for the Gallagher Premiership opener on Saturday.

It is a tough start against a team tipped for good things this season.

And Harrison said: "We look at their team and they're a big side.

"They've made a lot of great signings and a lot of boys have stayed on there so it will be a hard challenge but we're looking forward to it.

"If we get our drill right and we go down there with the intent we've had in pre-season, we'll do a job, but it's definitely going to be a hard one."

Saints would love to get off to a winning start in competitive action under new boss Chris Boyd.

And Harrison recognises the importance of building early-season momentum.

"We're putting ourselves under pressure," he said.

"We understand we need to start well in order to build into the season.

"We can't have a slow start otherwise we'll fall behind and we'll end up in a place where we don't want to be come Christmas time.

"We need to win this game and build momentum from it."