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Teimana Harrison driven to succeed at Northampton by death of close friend

Published 08/04/2016

Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley remains out with concussion
Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley remains out with concussion

Teimana Harrison is driven to succeed in English rugby to honour the memory of a close friend who died in a tragic jet ski accident.

The Northampton back row was one of two 18-year-olds to be convicted and discharged without further penalty for causing the death of Bishop Thompson on Lake Okareka, Rotorua, in 2011.

Later that year, Harrison set off for the Franklin's Gardens academy having been scouted by Dylan Hartley during the World Cup before taking advantage of Calum Clark's shoulder injury to establish himself in Saints' pack this season.

The English-qualified 23-year-old, who starts Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens at number eight, is determined to ensure his performances are worthy of his friend.

"It was a really tough time, probably one of the toughest times I've had in my life. I think it will be forever," Harrison said.

"Losing my mate and being involved in something like that was horrific. But through it all my mate's family supported me a lot. To have them behind me means that doing this is almost doing it for both of us.

"He was a really good rugby player and was aspiring to be an All Black. Hopefully I can make him proud by succeeding over here.

"I definitely think of him a lot. That accident has been massive in my life and means that I am trying not to waste time with useless stuff. I've tried to get my head down and work hard. It's been massive in turning me around.

"Every now and then I'm still in touch with his family. It's a bit hard but every time I go back home, I go to see him."

Harrison's headmaster at Rotorua Boys School described his playing style as "mongrel" and Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder set about refining his "wild man" approach upon his arrival in the East Midlands.

"I went to the same school as Dylan Hartley. My coach there coached him too. I wasn't getting much love through the New Zealand secondary schools system, so I thought it might be nice to have a change of scenery over here," Harrison said.

'Dylan was massive in me coming over. He spoke to the club about me. He was out in New Zealand for the World Cup and he came to watch a game. Thankfully I played well in that game so he said, 'bring him over'.

"I came over on a two-month trial and a few of the first-team boys got injured so I found myself playing first-team rugby. I must have done something right because Jim signed me up."

Now that he is a regular in Northampton's back row, Harrison has redefined his ambitions thanks to having a father who was born in Derby.

"I'm playing in England now and my goals are set on England. I don't think I'd want to go home," said Harrison, who has played most of his rugby at openside.

"I've sort of got my foot in the door now, so to leave and throw it away would be a waste.

"My sights are set on England. Hopefully if I carry on playing this way and developing my game, I will be knocking on their door. Hopefully I'll be on the Saxons tour.

"Ever since I showed up here, there's been all this talk about England not having an out-and-out seven. I'm quite keen to fill that space if I can get the right development and the experience."

Harrison, who has decorated a tattoo on his right arm with Saints' colours, came to England with his hair in dreadlocks.

"They went in my second year here. No-one over here had really seen them before so I was getting a bit of stick for them," he said.

"They might make an appearance again later on, but I want to get known for the rugby and not the crazy hairstyle!"

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