Saints farewell interview - part two: Teimana Harrison

When you make a decision, you can never truly know how it will turn out.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 12:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th July 2022, 11:49 am
Teimana Harrison
Teimana Harrison

But for Teimana Harrison, a few months on from agreeing to make a move that would change his life, he now knows his choice was the right one.

The 29-year-old will leave Saints this summer, ending an 11-year stay in Northampton.

He will head to France to join ambitious Pro D2 side Provence on a two-year deal.

And though Harrison is set to spend the first part of next season recovering from a serious knee injury sustained during Saints training at the end of April, he will have a big part to play from the off at his new club.

"The recovery time for my injury is anywhere from six to nine months so it's a big chunk of the season," Harrison said.

"I hadn't actually signed my full contract at Provence when it happened. I signed a pre-contract out there in February or March time and it's not actually your full contract so they can back out of it.

"They didn't even think about backing out, they got in contact straightaway and said they wanted me there to help out in any way I can.

"It's a two-year deal and I've still got a good chunk of time left in me yet.

"The five to eight months I've got left of my injury is going to be about getting my body in the right position and then I can hopefully make the most of my time there and get another contract.

"If all things work out and I'm playing, hopefully I can look back here. I've already told Shieldsy (Saints recruitment and retention guru Paul Shields) to get the pen and paper ready!"

As it turned out, Harrison's final game at Saints was a fitting one.

He was involved in an incredible show of character as the team recovered from a 31-12 deficit in the final 15 minutes to grab a stunning 36-31 win at Bath back in April.

He was looking forward to a big end to the season, having played 80 minutes in that match.

But he was hit with a hammer blow in training during the following week.

"I almost wish I'd gone out on the field but my injury happened in training, a real freak accident," Harrison said.

"I still don't really understand how it happened but I went to step off my right foot, my knee buckled and it was bye bye ACL.

"It was in the build up to the Harlequins game and I was looking forward to the rest of the games.

"All of a sudden I was sat on the physio table, thinking 's**t, Bath was my last game' but I'm glad I went out on a high and won that game. We had an incredible comeback.

"But it sucks, bro, and it sort of sums up my last two years here.

"In my first eight years, I was very rarely injured. They've got stats up in the physio room and out of the eight years, I missed about 150 sessions.

"Then in the last two years, I've missed like 500 sessions or something.

"Talk about bad luck - it's been the bane of me.

"I've gone from someone who played through niggles and was very rarely missing a game to playing 50 per cent of the time.

"It's been such a frustrating couple of years.

"It's even more frustrating going into a new team and not being able to stamp your mark straightaway.

"You're in the physio room and the gym and you're not really a part of it.

"I guess I'm a bit lucky in the sense that when I was sat with Provence, they sat me down and said they wanted me to be involved in everything.

"They want me to help bring the young fellas through and get into the position to contend in the Top 14.

"It's a nice feeling knowing I'll be going over there and be made useful rather than just being a food bill sat on a physio bench."

Harrison now can't wait for the next chapter in his career, but when he was initially making the decision about his future he had no real desire to leave Saints, the club he left his home in New Zealand to join as a teenager back in 2011.

"It was a strange time for me because usually I'd be playing through that (contract negotiation) period," Harrison said.

"But I was in and out of the team, picking up little niggles and bits and pieces so I couldn't get a good run together and put a good fight together.

"In saying that, I've seen a lot of people saying 'he's just going for the money, fair play, go chase that money while you can', but it never came down to money.

"The Saints put in a really good offer, it was a bit of a pay cut but not a substantial one.

"It was fair enough, considering how much I've been injured in the past two years.

"Realistically, what it came down to was length of contract.

"Saints offered me a one-plus-one, which means me or them could get out after one year.

"Provence offered me a two-year straight, and it was more money.

"I made it very clear to Saints that I wanted to stay but it was fair enough what they came back with because how could they take a risk like that, paying me good money and me not being able to put it out on the field?

"I sat down with Boydy and Dows and said I was really sorry but the best thing for me was to go out there for the security, and looking back now I've made the right decision because there would have been hard talks around Christmas time and renegotiations if I'd have stayed.

"The lifestyle out in France isn't all bad, I'll be out in the south of France with the weather.

"Provence have got big ambitions and they've recruited really well this year.

"It's a new adventure, bro."

While Harrison is now putting his full focus on life in France, he will never forget his special stay in a town that became his home.

Now a father of two, he has very much gone from boy to man during his time at Saints.

And he was happy to select a few highlights from his time at the club.

"The Clermont game was one of the better highlights," said Harrison, discussing his hat-trick hero performance in the Challenge Cup defeat at Stade Marcel Michelin back in January 2019.

"Although we lost (48-40) out there, scoring a hat-trick was special and I was one of the only people to do that there.

"The whole first season that I was playing was a big highlight for me.

"There was also another highlight in the Stade Francais game at home (in May 2017). I saw this guy walking along the path with his chips and a beer and he looked real chuffed with himself because he'd obviously beaten the queue. He was walking along and Woody (Tom Wood) fly-hacks the ball out and it smacks this guy right in the chips. They went flying!

"I was laughing so much on the sideline and so was Woody when I spoke to him about it.

"I've enjoyed all my time here, the highs and the lows, and I'll miss this place immensely.

"It's hard to pick my most memorable moments because there were so many of them.

"There was a season we lost so many games on the bounce but we did the double over Tigers and that made up for our s**t season. It's always a good time beating them, and it's a hard thing to do, as shown this year.

"I was at home watching the semi-final because I struggle to sit on the seats at a stadium with my knee. I was screaming at the television and my boy was looking at me like I was crazy."

While Leicester went on to win the title, Saints were left to rue one that got away after their play-off defeat at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

But Harrison fully believes they will bounce back and he feels the style of rugby that Chris Boyd has brought to the Gardens can bring trophies in the future.

"You have to play to your strengths and at the minute, our forward pack is smaller than some other packs like Saracens," Harrison said.

"We're not going to be busting the walls down all the time, we've got players who will definitely run into brick walls for you, but we're better suited to moving teams around.

"We are one of the fittest teams in the league and we've proven we can score and move teams around.

"We're building a good brand of rugby – and Harlequins are a good example of that. Bristol last year were.

"That type of game plan works and it can be pretty devastating.

"When you get it wrong, you can be on the back foot, but when you get it right you're going to put teams under a lot of pressure and score a lot of points.

"This team can do that."

All that is left then, is for Harrison to give his message to the Saints supporters.

"I just want to thank everyone for their support," he said.

"Everyone was so welcoming when I first got here as a scruffy kid from Opitiki.

"I want to say a massive thank-you to everybody who has played a part in my life and career, and I hope I've paid that back through theentertainment and the playing.

"I'm sorry we couldn't win more trophies that we've put ourselves in position to win, but that's how it goes sometimes in rugby - you don't get the bounce of the ball.

"The Saints are in good hands and I'm sure this team has got a lot to offer in the years to come.

"I'm gutted I won't be a part of it but I'll be watching from afar and hopefully I'll be able to get to a few games next season when we get time off.

"A massive thank-you to everyone, even the old players, it's been an experience I'll never forget.

"I'm happy to call Northampton home."