The only way Tom Harrison’s parents could convince their dyslexic son to read was by giving him £2.50 for a matchday programme at the Rec.
He would flick through the pages, struggling with the words but absorbing the pictures of Bath’s stars of the early 2000s, such as Mike Tindall, Jeremy Guscott and Steve Borthwick.
It opened up his imagination, inspiring him to head to his local rugby club. A prop, he enrolled at Hartpury College and scrummaged against a young Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola.
‘I’m hugely dyslexic so I found school hard,’ says Harrison. ‘I have a twin brother, Sam, who is the smart one, an A-star student.
Tom Harrison was parachuted in to Steve Borthwick's coaching staff for the Rugby World Cup
Harrison scrummaged against the likes of Kyle Sinckler (left) and Mako Vunipola (centre) after enrolling at Hartpury College
Borthwick's England side are looking to win the Rugby World Cup in France for the first time in 20 years
‘If you don’t like doing something or you’re not very good at it, the majority of the time you don’t do it.
‘Anything that needed to be done, my brother would help me, so I never did it. But when you find a love for something you think, “I can do this”.
‘I used to find myself practicing rugby programmes. I had an English teacher, Mr Morris, and my parents were a bit concerned that all I used to read were the programmes. Mr Morris told them, “It’s brilliant, you have found something that he’s invested in reading”.
‘I’m not saying had I not bought a rugby magazine I wouldn’t have learned to read and write, but it allowed me to hone other skills that were underdeveloped. That fuelled my love for rugby.’
Harrison’s playing career peaked with a move to Auch in the French second division. He operated as a player-coach, but is the first to admit he has enjoyed more success on the coaching side.
‘I’m probably a better coach than I was a player,’ he says. ‘I didn’t take enough accountability myself as a player to achieve what I could have.
‘There’s a difference between being a full-time player and a professional player. That has only started to click now as a coach.
Harrison won the Premiership in 2022 alongside Borthwick before the pair joined England
Harrison freely admits that he is a better coach than he was a player, his career on the field peaking with a move to French second-tier side Auch
‘Being dyslexic, it’s like you’re in a 100m race but your lane has hurdles in it. I’m not the biggest fan of writing on a whiteboard, put it that way.
‘But over the course of growing up I have learned different ways of thinking. Sometimes they are brilliant ideas, sometimes they’re horrendous, but I think slightly outside the box to different people. I see that as a problem-solving tool.
‘People say it’s the hard road I’ve taken, but it’s a road I’ve taken. There is no greater job. In my profession I get to represent my country, it’s brilliant.’
Born in 1991, Harrison is younger than Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Jamie George and Vunipola. England are going into the World Cup with experienced front-row forwards and Harrison has been tasked with ensuring the set-piece is a weapon, rather than a liability.
‘I’ve been coaching since 2012, so it’s a quick route in some aspects because I’m young, but if you look at career experience I’ve been coaching for a long time,’ he says.
‘I do have moments where you go, “Wow, I’ve got one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to coach my country in a sport that I love”.
‘But then you come back down to earth. Let’s do the job, rather than be in a honeymoon period.
‘The experience within our front row is phenomenal. If I was to come in and go, “Right lads, this is what we’re doing” and not ask the opinion of the older guys, it would be silly of me. That would be reckless coaching — why is he not using the tools in the room to help everyone benefit each other?
‘If you go back to any successful English team, it’s built on the strong foundations of the game and the scrum is ultimately one of them. There has been a challenge there of if we want to get England back to being one of the world’s best.
The new coach claimed that the scrum is a pressure builder and a platform to build attacks from
The former prop argued that another key component of the scrum is in generating fatigue
‘It’s about understanding that the scrum is no longer a restart of the game. It’s a pressure builder, whether you build pressure by striking off it with fast ball so you can attack, or through winning a penalty.
‘The other thing is, it’s a momentum swinger. If you win a turnover at the scrum, you see the backs celebrating. You have the ball, you have changed the momentum of the game.
‘The final part in the scrum is a fatigue generator. If you can keep scrummaging long and get the lactic acid building up in your legs, then players find it hard to run.
‘If you can have those aspects and a strong, ruthless scrum, then you can really control a game of rugby.’