Living in a world where people consider rugby as one of the most violent sports out there, it takes more than just sheer guts to try—much less commit—to an athletic career that subjects the body to a constantly grueling sort of punishment, even by normal sports standards. But for gold medalist and Philippine Men’s Rugby National Team player Harry Morris, this is a challenge he has taken on for almost three decades, and not once thought of backing down since he first picked up a rugby ball at eight and growing up in the UK. Even though he was initially based abroad, Harry has been proudly playing for the Philippine National team since 2007. He finally decided to settle in Manila a few years ago.
As one of the most senior members of the Philippine Volcanoes, Harry says he does not consider age as a hurdle in continuing to play the sport at a consistently high level. But the physical requirements of rugby always kept him on top of his game. Philippine rugby players have to try out before each tournament so making the squad once does not give you a guaranteed slot in the team. Some players still get cut a day before the actual tournament.
“We have to maintain a level of fitness as a squad member and then we’re monitored on a weekly basis when we have training. There are two selection procedures. First you have to make the squad, then you have to make the training camp squad and then that will be whittled down from 17 players to 12 players and then the final 12 get to play. We get regularly tested through fitness tests and team plays and you have to play in the local leagues and you’re always watched,” he admits.
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The misconception that the Volcanoes are all just halfies (half-Brit, half-Aussie, etc.) who had arguably better training overseas, Harry hopes their recent SEA Games roster also hopes to break. "This time our organization and our depth and our squad is much higher which is good for future. Now, we no longer have to rely on foreign-based Filipinos, which is good for the future of rugby so we’re stronger as a union now. Now we have a bigger selection of players of all ages. We have some youngsters as well as some experienced ones. Before we mostly relied on our experienced players who were mostly based abroad,” he adds.
It is this stringent selection process that does not consider seniority or position that had their squad dominating their division, undefeated, all the way to a gold medal finish. But even if they were the returning champions, Harry admits they trained hard up until December. Their preparations for the SEA Games started in July when they participated in the Asian 7s series in Korea, China, and Sri Lanka. “The policy is always to send the best team in the best form. Even if your team in the last tournament was very successful, you have to make sure that you’re still competitive in the following tournament because many new players come in offering new talents. The game evolves so throughout the years, strategies and tactics can vary and then depending on the players you have and the kind of game you want to play, you just constantly have to stay on top of your game,” he explains.
When a freak collision in one of their overseas tournaments left him with a broken finger in June, Harry admits the unexpected injury only made him work doubly harder to work for his slot in the team despite the slight disadvantage. “When you’re competing for spots, you always have to be on top of your game and because I got injured, I lost out on chances to impress so I just had to work hard to get my thumb healed as much as possible. I had two pins put in and had therapy to do. The doctor said the ideal time was three months until it’s back to normal but I told him, ‘No, I need it to be back in six weeks.’ My training was also restricted because I could no longer run with a cast so I couldn’t do any physical activity. So as soon as the cast was off, I was everyday trying to get my body back up to normal. I was worried because after my pins came out, I had one week until I went into training camp. So, my scars weren’t even fully healed yet. I just wrapped it up. Obviously the thought that I might not make it in was there, but if I don’t give my 100% then I obviously wasn’t going to make it so I thought to just get on with it. I went into camp as hard as I could. The coaches were concerned asking if I could do it. But on a daily basis I was getting more and more confident with it. There’s probably an element of craziness there but you can do it (laughs),” he recalls.
As a former captain of the Volcanoes squad that made history after making it into the Rugby 7s World Cup in Russia back in 2013, Harry says he already has lots to be proud of even before their SEA Games achievement. And at 34, he is still playing in tiptop shape, matching the physicality of those in the squad that are as young as 19 years old. “I’ve definitely done the most tours in this squad. I’m fortunate that the group of boys that are there have been fantastic. I got on with them straight away. We click and bond really well and they all have the same mindset and drive and match it with their ability and talent on the field. Of course it’s different because this year there’s only four of us who have been playing for over 10 years. So we obviously have different stories and shared experiences than the new players in the team."
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When he’s not on the rugby pitch, Harry is a marine and freshwater biologist as well as an entrepreneur. “I’m actually a scientist with an entrepreneurial streak I guess. I like to focus on my projects. I’m an executive at Hijo Resources corporation, a multi-business company which is mostly based in Davao Del Norte and Tagum where we’re building a smart city 1,000 hectare development. Right now I’m sort of rebuilding an eco system and making an artificial reef about two kilometers long when it’s finished. I was a consultant managing their sustainability projects then evolved and got larger and now it’s become an integral part of the business,” he says.
While he shows no signs of slowing down in rugby, Harry also looks forward to starting a new phase in his life after getting engaged last year to his Fil-German fiancée. “I know rugby is something that we cannot continue doing forever but I take it year by year. Physically I’m in good shape so there’s no reason to stop. I have no excuse. They key is finding relaxing personal time. If I do have it I’ll go on trips with my fiancee Jasmin or my family. Or I’ll go skiing in the winter or spend time with my family in the UK,” he adds.
With rugby is still trying to gain traction in the country, their impressive showing at the 2019 SEA Games, Harry hopes their performance can hopefully encourage more Pinoys to try taking up at the sport. “Rugby is a very unique sport and I think it reaches out to the basic human attributes that everyone has. During the times when humans had to hunt and gather and go into battle with each other, we all have an element of animal instinct in us. So, we get satisfaction from when we are able to run and move and compete with other humans in any physical activity. And the thing about rugby is that it allows you to express yourself as an athlete. You become very balanced and well rounded. You have to have an element of speed and agility and strength and skills. When doing that and combining with your teammates, it’s sort of like a work of art. It’s kind of like a symphony coming together. Each person has their own instrument that they specialize in and they play together and make something beautiful so when a team comes together and plays well, it’s becomes a wonderful piece of orchestration. And then you take those skill sets into life. Take that mindset into the day to day life, it makes you resilient, creative, a good team player and a good leader,” he adds.
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On Harry: Muscle shirt, Bo’ at SM; leggings and shorts, both adidas
Produced by Camille Santiago / Photography by Vyn Radovan / Grooming by Muriel Vega Perez and Team MVP / Hair by Francis Guintu of Aveda Philippines / Styling by Aldrin Ramos. Acknowledgements WeWork Philippines, Aveda, and Teriyaki Boy / Shot on location at WeWork Philippines, Menarco Tower, BGC.