Scotland’s Chris Harris previews France Six Nations match

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CHRIS HARRIS says that Scotland have parked the disappointment of their home loss to Wales and are still targeting a top of the table finish in this year’s Six Nations.

The outside centre added that the team are fully focussed on Sunday’s round three clash against unbeaten France in Paris and won’t be distracted by the Covid outbreak in the opposition camp which has thrown the match into uncertainty.

“Why not?” the 30-year-old replied, when asked if a first championship success since 1999 is a realistic target. “After we beat England away, it was a case of: ‘We can do this!’ We’ve then gone close against Wales. We’re obviously not focusing too far ahead, but if we can beat France then we’ve got two home games to come, so it’s a good opportunity for us.

“We’re ready for it, we’re feeling good and we’re playing well,” he added. “I think that’s quite exciting. “It’s a big game for us because if we go over there and we win, it puts us in a real good spot to win the comp. Everyone believes it. We’ve just got to go out there and do the job. That’s why we’re keen for this game to go ahead. That’s literally all our focus.”

The last time Scotland won in France was, funnily enough, in that 1999 championship winning year, which gives an indication of how tough it will be. But Gregor Townsend’s team have got into a happy habit of breaking long losing streaks in recent months, beating both Wales and England away from home for the first time in 18 and 36 years respectively, and Harris sees no reason why they can’t now make it hat-trick.

“I’ve never actually played in Paris, so I don’t know what it’s like, but we’re playing in empty stadiums at the moment so it’s probably going to be similar to playing at all the other empty stadiums,” he said. “We are full of confidence and we all believe that we can win the Championship. A decision will be made tonight on whether or not the game can be played on Sunday, but Harris insisted that he won’t be anxiously awaiting that update.

“It’s a weird one, there’s not been any doubt in my mind this game is going ahead,” he said. “That might just be me, I don’t know, but I’m not thinking about anything else other than going over to France and playing rugby. I’m not worried about it not going ahead. If you do that, then you won’t prepare properly. If Sunday’s game is pushed back a week – as has been mooted – then it will be taking place outside World Rugby’s designated international window, meaning any Scotland squad member who plays their club rugby in England could be blocked by their club from taking part. Harris, who plays for Gloucester, so is one of the 12 players who could be affected.

If he was to miss out on his 26th cap as a result of this, it would be a bitter pill to swallow, but he would be helpless to do anything about it. “That’s out of my control,” he shrugged. “You do as you’re told, effectively. I think the laws are in place to avoid those kinds of awkward conversations, but it’s up to Gregor and George Skivington [head coach at Gloucester]to talk to each other and discuss my whereabouts.

“I would be pretty upset,” he added. “I want to play for Scotland, I want to play for my country, so I’d be pretty devastated on a personal level. But again, if it’s not safe to play, it’s not safe, and if I have to go back to Gloucester and I’m not allowed to come back up . . . whether they can make tweaks to those laws is out of my hands. “It’s out of all the players’ hands: we’ve just got to crack on and focus on the week, not let that be a distraction.”

It would be a blow to Harris personally, and a blow to Scotland as a team, because after an inauspicious start to his international career, he has developed into a key figure in the squad, as both a leader in defence and an increasingly dangerous running threat with ball in hand.

His first international start was in the 34-7 hammering by Wales at the start of the 2018 Six Nations, and he didn’t feature again during that campaign, but has now played in all of Scotland’s last six matches stretching back to the final World Cup warm-up match against Georgia in September 2016. “It’s been a really good run for me personally,” he agreed. “I was maybe a little bit of a slow-burner to start with, I don’t know. I was just taking that little bit of extra time to settle and grow in confidence. That next step up from playing club rugby to internationals in front of 60,000, or 80,000 that day in Wales, is a big step – but I’m enjoying it now and I want to keep improving.”

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