Will Harrison: The Australian Schoolboys captain who barely had a leg to stand on
After playing with the Australian Schools Barbarians against Tonga in 2016, young Randwick flyhalf Will Harrison had big plans heading in to his final year of school at Marcellin College in Sydney this year.
The talented playmaker trained with Randwick’s colts program over summer but kept one eye on the upcoming schoolboys season and a potential green and gold jersey.
Harrison looked set for a bumper 2017, until things came to a sudden halt in round two of this year’s Shute Shield colts season.
“It was five minutes into our first game against (Sydney) Uni,” Harrison told Rugby News.
“I half broke a tackle and when their bloke jumped on my back, my body went one way but my studs stayed in the ground and I just heard a big crack.”
Harrison broke his fibula and was forced to have surgery a week later to insert a plate and three screws into his leg.
“It felt like everything came crashing down. I was in a pretty dark place in those first few weeks after the injury but the doctors told me there was a chance I might be able to play again this year, so that helped me stay positive,” he said.
Doctors told Harrison he needed at least three months of rehab before he could return to the rugby field, but gave him a slim chance of returning in time for this year’s Australian Schools Championships in early July.
“Luckily I got in and had surgery quickly and that allowed me to start my rehab straight away. It seemed like it took forever but eventually I was able to run again and then slowly got back into training,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder for something in my life. There were a lot of early mornings and a lot of time in the gym by myself. Pat McCutcheon got me training in the Waratahs gym and the Randwick strength and conditioning guys did a lot of work with me as well, so I’m really grateful for all of their help.”
But despite his best efforts, Harrison’s leg didn’t recover in time for the Australian Schools Championships, which typically doubles as a selection trial for the Australian Schoolboys teams.
“When I found out I couldn’t play in the (National) Championships, I thought it was all over again and that was pretty heartbreaking but I went along and ran water for NSW and the coaches told me that if my form was good when I returned for Randwick, they’d consider me.”
More than four months after the injury, Harrison returned for Randwick’s colts side against West Harbour in late July and almost immediately rediscovered his impressive preseason form.
The playmaker starred for the Galloping Greens in their run towards the finals and was added to the Australian Schoolboys training squad in late August.
A month later, he was named starting flyhalf and captain of the Australian side for the opening Test against Fiji, kicking four penalty goals in a scrappy 29-3 win earlier this week.
“We can improve a lot from Monday’s effort and I think that’s a positive because we created a lot of opportunities but we just didn’t execute at times,” Harrison said.
“Our defence was pretty good, we kept them scoreless besides their one penalty goal so I think there are plenty of positives to take from the Fiji game.”
Australian Schools coach Pat Langtry has named an unchanged starting side for Saturday’s Test against New Zealand Schools, with Harrison set to captain his side again at TG Millner.
“You’re playing New Zealand in a schoolboys Test match at home so you don’t need a whole lot of extra motivation, but when I think about how hard I worked this year and all the people that have helped me get back on the field, it does make it extra special,” Harrison said.
“We’ve worked a lot on the little things this week. Keeping our depth, catch pass, a lot of the basics that we know New Zealand do really well and I think that will help.
“The key for us is to put as much pressure on them as possible and then make the most of our opportunities when they come.”
While Harrison admitted Australia were far from their best against Fiji, he said the entire preparation has been built around Saturday’s Test against the Kiwis.
“We’ve had two weeks together to prepare as a team now and I think a lot of the guys are ready for a big match.
“Ben Donaldson at fullback has been great. He usually plays flyhalf for Waverley but he’s been really impressive at the back so far and controls the game really well.
“Our prop Angus Bell only turned 17 the other day. He played really well against Fiji and he’s only going to get better. Hoppa (winger Albert Hopoate) is another young guy with a big future, he’s an absolute freak.”
Australia haven’t beaten New Zealand in the annual Trans Tasman Schoolboy Test since 2012 but Harrison is confident his side can break that drought.
“New Zealand have dominated World Rugby for the last decade, particularly at schoolboy level so it would be massive to beat them and I think that’s exactly what Australian rugby needs at the moment,” he said.
“We need a change and I think that can start with us tomorrow if we can go out there, put plenty of pressure on New Zealand and get a result.”
Australian Schools play New Zealand Schools at 1pm on Saturday at TG Millner Field in Sydney after the Australian Schools Barbarians face Fiji Schools at 11am.
Following the schoolboy matches, the Greater Sydney Rams take on Fiji Drua in NRC action at 3pm.