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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Thursday, April 15th 2021

Fitz Harding: Perseverance, process and climbing the ladder

Fitz Harding's route to professional rugby has been anything but conventional, but then again, neither has his first nine months with the Bears.

The 21-year-old, who is still yet to play in front of a crowd in Bears colours, is one of the game’s late bloomers and his new contract – a first senior deal, graduating from the Academy – is a clear sign of the potential his Director of Rugby, Pat Lam has identified in the versatile back rower.

Harding announced his arrival in the professional game with a crucial intervention at Franklin’s Gardens as the Bears mounted yet another remarkable late fightback in March, smoothly scooping up a loose ball and galloping clear to feed Andy Uren for the decisive score. The following week, he scored his first professional try against Harlequins - the 15,000th in Premiership history.

But three years previous, a career in professional rugby had looked lightyears away for a more welterweight Harding, plying his trade in the University of Durham fourth XV while studying a degree in History. Fast forward through a whirlwind period on and off the field, including a first BUCS Super League title and a few extra kilograms, Harding now finds himself sharing a changing room, and the back row, with All Blacks, England internationals and the Samoa captain.

“It’s been pretty incredible. When I joined the club, I didn’t expect to be in the position I am now. But I’m loving every minute – it’s an amazing facility here at the High-Performance Centre and a great group of lads, so I feel lucky to have joined here and it’s been a great few months here.

“It’s a big step up from university rugby, in terms of the physicality and skill level. The level of detail in a professional environment is so high and it’s playing rugby in a completely different way. University rugby is quite ‘off the cuff’; you just go out there and play, which has its benefits. But here, there is so much more detail in everything, and it makes you think about the game in such greater depth.”

On the subject of depth, the Bears’ back row roster has afforded Harding a star-studded cast of mentors - from All Black, Steven Luatua, to current England star, Ben Earl. It’s allowed him to learn and absorb from some of the game’s smartest and most talented operators and is an opportunity Harding is keen to maximise.

“Each of those guys are world class in different aspects of the game. I think if you look at someone like Stevie (Luatua), he exemplifies the idea that being exceptionally good at basic things can make you a world class player. Then, working with DT (Dan Thomas) and Ben Earl as well, they are such natural rugby players and there are always little bits you can pick up off them. I’ve been working with Ben a lot of the physical aspects of the game, so that’s been a great experience and I’m lucky to have these guys.”

Harding’s journey into the professional game is a road less travelled, but one that has served him extremely well. In a way, he is grateful to have had to wait for his opportunity, with his three years at the University of Durham allowing his body to catch up with his mind and a well-rounded skill set.

“It’s been pretty incredible. When I joined the club, I didn’t expect to be in the position I am now. But I’m loving every minute – it’s an amazing facility here at the High-Performance Centre and a great group of lads, so I feel lucky to have joined here and it’s been a great few months here."

Fitz Harding

“I’ve always felt like I had the skill level and I feel like I read the game quite well, but I’d always struggled with the physical aspect, so having that extra few years of development at university allowed me to catch up in that respect and it slotted together in the end, but there is obviously still loads to learn and improve.

“In that sense, I actually count myself very fortunate that I wasn’t given the opportunity to play professionally at 18, because I obviously would have taken it and I think allowing myself to go to university has given me a degree to fall back on and I also had a great time, loved it and played lots of rugby.

“I went to university with aspirations of playing at a higher level, but my primary goal was to get a degree and do well in my academics, and if I could play a bit of rugby alongside that, that would be great.

“When I arrived at Durham, in my first year I played half a season in the fourth team, just enjoying rugby and playing with some good lads. Then towards the end of my first year, I started to play a few games for the second and first team. In my second year, I really started to push on and had some of my best games, and at that point I was beginning to look to play professionally. And then in my third year, we had a great team and ended up winning BUCS Super League, so that was really special.

“The best thing about BUCS is that you’ve got a good level of rugby week in, week out. It’s a competitive league, it’s growing, and it will be great if it can keep developing the way it has been.”

Followers of the Bears journey under Pat Lam will be familiar with the phrase ‘trust the process’ and Harding is singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to his future aspirations.

“I just want to keep developing as a player. I’ve always tried to be quite process orientated in that I try not to set goals that are solely focused on the outcome. I’m just going to take each day as it comes, work hard, develop my game and continue to work closely with all of the mentors I have here.”

From student, to student of the game, Fitz Harding’s journey is a victory for perseverance. His next assignment is to build on the brightest of starts to his professional career.


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