Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris was stunned when he found out he had been named in the All Blacks training squad for the upcoming Tests against England.
The 22-year-old and Highlanders’ Liam Coltman were two of four new faces in the 35-man group who will attend camps in Christchurch and Wellington in the next couple of weeks. Lock Patrick Tuipulotu and centre Malakai Fekitoa are the other newcomers.
The two young hookers will work alongside veteran All Blacks rake Keven Mealamu and his back-up Dane Coles before All Blacks coach Steve Hansen makes his final 31-man squad selection on June 1. Harris was given the good news after the Chiefs’ 32-20 win against the Blues on Friday night.
“I was pretty shell-shocked to be honest,” Harris admitted. “I had to sit down for a wee bit. All the boys got back on the bus and my father was waiting outside for me and I said ‘Dad I’ve been named in the All Blacks squad’ and he was pretty shocked.”
It has been a rapid rise for Harris, who wasn’t even in the Chiefs wider squad at the start of the year. But when a neck injury ruled out Hika Elliot for the Super Rugby season and Mahonri Schwalger was struggling with niggling injuries Harris, who had been training with the squad, became a permanent member of the group and has not looked back.
His accurate lineout throwing has seen him start the past two matches ahead of Rhys Marshall after other appearances off the bench but he admits he didn’t see his elevation to the All Blacks training squad coming.
“I hadn’t really had much game time so I was pretty surprised that I got the call up,” Harris said. “I’ve only had two starts and 40-odd minutes but they must have liked me somehow. It’s very good to see.”
Harris only began playing hooker in his final year of school after packing down at No.8 and blindside flanker before that. The switch to the front row was prompted by the arrival of his now Chiefs team-mate, flanker Sam Cane, and Carl Axtens.
“I played three games at hooker and thought maybe I’ll just give this a crack and see how it goes,” Harris added.
But he is not getting carried away by his chance of a black jersey. “I just like to keep my head down and work pretty hard,” he said. “I know I’ve got a lot to work on so just making sure I’m doing those extras and keeping my head down and feet grounded. If I do get an opportunity I’ll definitely be grabbing it with both hands.”