31 December 2004
Newcastle Falcons openside flanker Cory Harris is fulfilling the role of the quiet man at Kingston Park, subtly going about his business with great effectiveness but little fanfare since his November arrival from Wales.
Born and raised in New Zealand, but qualified for Wales, the former Bridgend, Pontypridd and Celtic Warriors star has added an injection of pace to the Newcastle back row in his six appearances to date, but has gone about it in his own understated way.
One local journalist from an opposing club was heard at a recent game to comment that he had "not seen much of this Harris fellow", and was promptly informed by another member of the press that his statement in fact meant that the 29-year-old was doing his precise intended role, burying himself at the bottom of every ruck and scavenging for the ball away from the limelight.
Having made a big impact with those in the know during his time at Kingston Park so far, Harris says typically modestly: "The squad is fantastic, and we have great talent. They're all good blokes and we're putting in some performances now.
"I've been here for about two months, but it feels like I've been a Falcon longer because it's been really easy to settle in."
Harris took up rugby relatively late in life considering that he spent his childhood in the rugby-obsessed climes of New Zealand, and while volleyball was his sport of choice as a youngster, he is making up for it now by acclimatising well to life in the Zurich Premiership.
It was against Sunday's opponents, Sale Sharks, that Harris made his Falcons debut, as he was thrust straight into bonfire night action in an Edgeley Park thriller, which began with a huge double tackle with Phil Dowson on Sharks No.8 Sebastien Chabal, but ultimately ended in a frustrating defeat.
"It would be nice to start with a tackle like that again," he says with a grin.
"I was reasonably happy with my first game at Sale on debut, and we were a bit unlucky to lose because we played some good rugby, but just let it slip in the end.
"Now that we're up against them again we have a chance to finish the job off, and it will be happy days if we manage to do that. Sale have some good players upfront, but our pack is coming right as well."
Traditionally typecast as a free-flowing backs-oriented side, under the tutelage of former hooker Ross Nesdale the Falcons have developed a steely edge up front, with a back row trio of Harris, Colin Charvis and Dowson making serious waves in recent weeks.
"When you start in any back row combination it always takes a game or so before you're functioning at your absolute maximum as a unit, and we're getting there with myself, Colin and Phil at the moment, although I must say that all the guys who I've played with so far have been good players as well, like Mike McCarthy and Semo Sititi," says Harris.
"Most of our forwards are free of injury, and we have confidence in the fact that we can do a job against anyone."
Such was the timing of Harris's arrival, with the departures of Andrew Mower and Warren Britz, as well as the shoulder injury to Ed Williamson, that he was not signed in time for the Heineken Cup pool matches.
Despite his Falcons side sitting pretty at the top of Pool Five after four wins from four so far, his unavailability for the competition means that after Sunday's game he will have a four-week lay-off from match action until the Premiership trip to Saracens at the end of January.
"I know I won't be playing for a few weeks, so I will give it a good crack against Sale, but to be honest it won't change the way I play because I always like to give absolutely everything in a game even if I'm playing again a week later," he says.
"What it does mean is that I can really freshen up for when we next play, and it's not that often in professional rugby that you get such a chance.
"The last time the Falcons had two Heineken Cup games I was actually carrying a few knocks, so I couldn't really train with the team doing the contact stuff anyway, although I still did fitness work.
"After this game hopefully I won't have any niggles, and I'll be able to take a full part in training to support the guys who are playing in the Heineken Cup games."
As for the immediate goals in his first season of English rugby, he insists: "The aim is to get into the top three in the Zurich Premiership, to qualify for the play-offs, and if we keep improving then that is definitely an achievable target."
So, no regrets about making the move to the north east?
"None at all. I'm very pleased with how it has worked out, and myself and my wife are very happy up here.
"I enjoyed my time in Wales, but I'm really settled at Newcastle already. I'm looking forward to having more games in the Premiership, and hopefully the Heineken Cup if we play to our potential and make the quarter finals."