Scotland v South Africa: Chris Harris explains how the seeds of his centre partnership with Sam Johnson were sown in Japan

In his 17 starts for Scotland at outside centre Chris Harris has had Sam Johnson alongside him nine times and it’s fair to say the pair have developed a fruitful partnership.

Chris Harris in action for the British and Irish Lions during the tour of South Africa. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Chris Harris in action for the British and Irish Lions during the tour of South Africa. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend’s side have won six of those games, most recently on Sunday when the Scots beat Australia in a tense Test match in Edinburgh.

The two men are expected to be picked again at 13 and 12 when Gregor Townsend names his team to face South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Harris and Johnson were first selected together in the Rugby World Cup against Samoa in Japan in 2019 and it was at the tournament that they also struck up a bond off the pitch.

Sam Johnson and Chris Harris have formed an effective centre partnership for Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“Our friendship grew on the World Cup tour,” said Harris. “We roomed together and were there for the whole time so we got to know each other really well, so from that perspective we’re really close.

“Then on the field, that just expands from the relationship off the field. We understand each other. I understand what he wants to do defensively and in attack. We speak to each other a lot in training about what to expect from the opposition and what we expect from each other. It’s a good partnership we’ve got going on.”

Scotland have made impressive strides since that disappointing World Cup, with the win over the Aussies - who are ranked third in the world - following last season's victories over England and France.

A muscular pairing, Johnson and Harris will face a hugely physical challenge on Saturday as Scotland look to claim their second Southern Hemisphere scalp of the week.

Chris Harris helped Scotland defeat Australia 15-13 at Murrayfield. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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Harris’ experiences on the Lions tour means he is unlikely to be surprised by what the Springboks throw at him but it’s one thing knowing about it, quite another stopping it.

The received wisdom in the aftermath of the Lions tour was that the tourists squandered their chance to win the series by being too conservative and trying to play the Springboks at their own game.

Harris feels that is a little simplistic, making the point that the Lions’ victory in the first Test vindicated coach Warren Gatland’s tactics at that point in the tour.

“We won that first game, didn’t we? And then the second Test came and it didn't quite work out for us,” observed the centre. “You did look at it and think, there were some opportunities here and some opportunities there.

“I think what will happen this weekend is that there will be some opportunities to play a bit of rugby but you can’t be caught over-playing. It’s a balance and you’ve got to be smart.”

While looking forward to linking up again with Johnson, Harris is taking nothing for granted when it comes to selection.

“There are so many good midfielders here that if you’re off your game then they can easily be swapped in and out.

“It is nice to get a bit of continuity but at the same time you’ve got to be on your toes and be prepared in the event that someone else may come in. You might be playing with someone else or you might be out, you just don’t know but when the opportunity arise you’ve just got to crack on.”

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