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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Friday, January 26th 2018

In-Depth: Familiar faces make for smooth transition for Jason Harris-Wright

Jason Harris-Wright’s latest Bristol Rugby stint is a tale of familiarity, as the hooker links up with his former club, coach, teammates and older brother, all in one move.

Harris-Wright, made 11 appearances for Bristol during the 2011/12 season before moving to Connacht, where he would eventually play under Pat Lam and win the Pro14 title. Prior to that, the Dublin-born front-rower won a Heineken Cup medal with Leinster, alongside current teammate and fly half, Ian Madigan.

And to complete the haul, Jason’s older brother, Jonathan has been a strength and conditioning coach at the club since 2013, ensuring the latest transition has been a pretty smooth operation.

“It was a big element,” said Harris-Wright. “Obviously, I worked with Pat for three years at Connacht and knew a few people in Bristol, so it made the transition a lot easier. From a point of view of getting to know people over here, but also the rugby side of it, knowing most of what we were doing gave me an advantage.

“Knowing most of the plays, the way we were going to play, and what Pat expects from all of his players really helped me.

“To have my brother here is probably one of the biggest factors, he’s probably the biggest influence on my career so far. I used to ring him all the time to bounce things off him, so it’s nice to have him here. But he is getting me to do a lot of babysitting at the moment.”

Jason Harris-Wright (right), with older brother and Bristol S&C coach, Jonny (JMP UK).

The signing of school friend and former Leinster teammate, Ian Madigan, was another big pull for Harris-Wright, as he plotted his next move in the sport. The pair, who attended the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin before graduating the Leinster Academy together, remain close friends, and Harris-Wright says the signing of Madigan was a huge statement of intent from the club.

“I’ve known Mads (Ian Madigan) a long time now, we were in school together for a year and then went through the academy and senior setup at Leinster for three or four years, so I’ve known him a long time,” he said.

“I’m pretty close to him as a guy and love playing with him, so when I saw he’d signed, it was a massive statement of intent, of where the club is going.”

Both Madigan and Harris-Wright were late substitutes during the 2011 Heineken Cup Final, as Leinster fought back from 22-6 down to beat Northampton Saints 33-22 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

“To have my brother here is probably one of the biggest factors, he’s probably the biggest influence on my career so far. But he is getting me to do a lot of babysitting at the moment.”

Jason Harris-Wright

As you’d expect, Harris-Wright remembers it well and believes the leadership at the club played a huge role in their miraculous comeback.

“It was a pretty crazy game", he said. “The build-up was a crazy week. In the first half, Northampton came flying out of the blocks and got a couple of early scores and we seemed to not get off the bus.

“It’s widely talked about, but we came in at half time and it was Johnny Sexton who sat everyone down, calmed everyone down and said: ‘we just need to score next and if we do that, we’ll go on to win this game.’

“That’s exactly what happened and I think, after we got that first score, we knew we were going to come back and win it.

“I remember so vividly, just before half-time, Ben Foden scored in the corner and we were warming up where he scored. That put them something like 17 points ahead and I’d be lying if I said, we didn’t drop our heads. You instantly think the worst, but after we got to half-time, we regrouped.

Jason Harris-Wright dives over to score against Bedford at Goldington Road (JMP UK).

“We eventually got two scores ahead towards the end and pretty much knew that we’d done it, which was pretty crazy and we had some pretty good celebrations afterwards.”

In rugby terms, Harris-Wright is well travelled and admits he’s been lucky to share a changing room with some giants of the game – Sexton included. It’s allowed him to absorb knowledge throughout his journey, with the 29-year-old now keen to pass on his knowledge and experience to the younger generation at Bristol.

“I think there’s obviously some really good leaders here and it’s important that the younger guys do know what it takes to reach the levels required,” he said.

“When I was young, I got really good examples from senior guys at Leinster and Connacht, so I think it’s important that us guys, who are a bit older and more experienced, transfer that to some of the younger lads.

“That’s what the experienced players did for me at Leinster and Connacht, and it’s what I want to do here at Bristol.”

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