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On Monday, Justin Harrison, the controversial and tough as a plank second rower, will turn up for training with the ACT Brumbies. The Roar has learnt that Harrison has signed terms with the Brumbies for the 2010 season, and that the ARU has refused to endorse the contract.
The stage is set for a bitter battle between the Brumbies and the ARU over Harrison.
The ARU has refused to allow the Brumbies to sign Harrison as a local player. The ARU is within its rights to do this. The Roar understands, however, that the Brumbies will try to sign Harrison up as an overseas player, a right that the franchise may be able to exercise without the endorsement of the ARU.
But whether this tactic is open to the Brumbies management remains in doubt.
Harrison made his Super Rugby debut with the Brumbies in 1997. He became a Wallaby in 2001 in the third Test against the British and Irish Lions. His lineout snatch against the throw in the final minutes of the Test effectively ended the Lions fight-back.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science from the UNSW in 2008. In 2004 he played a season with the NSW Waratahs. He was accused of using racial slurs against the South African winger Chumani Booi in 2005.
Then he joined Ulster and earned a reputation as a sledger. He joined Bath in 2008 and left in May this year. A RFU disciplinary panel charged him and three other players with ‘conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.’ Harrison was banned from playing or coaching rugby until January 13, 2010 after he admitted taking cocaine and fighting with a member of the Harlequins playing staff.
The ARU, apparently, believe that a player with this sort of record should not be given a contract to play Super 14 rugby for an Australian franchise. This year the ARU has taken tough action to clean up the behaviour of a number of players. Harrison has been a serial offender in the past and the ARU is unwilling to give him a further chance to play rugby in Australia.
The Brumbies case is that Harrison has served his suspension and that he has pleaded for a chance for redemption.
There is, moreover, a shortage of tough, experienced second-rowers in Australian rugby, and in the Brumbies franchise. With Matt Giteau coming back to control a backline loaded with talent, the Brumbies say they need a tough enforcer, a Brumbies equivalent of Bakkies Botha, to provide the grunt and the muscle in the forwards for the backs to work off.
Whether the Brumbies get their enforcer, though, depends on how successful they are in their off-the-field fight with the ARU.