A combative James Haskell is ignoring the critics and wants Wasps in another European final.
James Haskell has collected a colossal pile of food from the cafeteria at Wasps’ training ground. But, even on a fine April day, it must be going cold. Leaning over his lunch, the 31-year-old flanker talks rapidly despite a dark spider’s web of stitches protruding from his swollen bottom lip.
"If some bloke who played 40 years ago – and rugby even six years ago, is very different than it is now – makes a comment, obviously we read it," he continues. "That’s human nature. You read something about yourself and you know it’s bullshit, but if you read something about Kim Kardashian, you’re like: ‘Oh God, it must be true.’"
“In England time, the microscope comes on – and that seems to be a rallying call for armchair nauses to crawl out of the woodwork. Honestly, I don’t care. I’ve still got that desire to improve. I enjoy my life, I have a laugh, I work hard and I get paid to do some cool things. I’ve got a number of businesses, I’ve written three books."At the end of the day, if you have time to comment on people, you need to have a look at your life. Who has time to register for an account, sign up and then make dubious comments?
I f**king haven’t."People who sit in their offices and hate their lives do that. People who sit at home surrounded by cats do that. That’s why I love programmes like Troll Hunters and Catfish. Your eyes are opened to these very sad people and you realise you need to get all of it into sharp perspective. However If Eddie Jones was telling me I was a load of shit, that would be very different."
Haskell is frank and forthright, often vigorously so. His views cut a refreshing, engaging contrast from the sterilised soundbites of modern sport.
When asked about his critics, he becomes far too preoccupied with making a point to worry about eating. Rather than a spontaneous rant, however, this is a response to a question on public perception – specifically, Haskell’s Instagram post from the Paris changing rooms after a 31-21 win over France.
The telling phrase was: "Talk about this on your crappy blogs and websites." Plainly, hushing cynics served as motivation.
England head coach Jones is a fan. The Australian ignored a sea of scepticism to deploy Haskell at openside flanker for the entire Six Nations. It proved an inspired decision. Haskell underpinned England’s Grand Slam success. Just do not expect him to revel in praise.
"I think I’ve been playing the same way that I’ve been playing for Wasps for a while," he says. "When people want to look at you in a favourable light and you’re in pole position, that’s the way it goes."You can pick holes in everyone’s game, too – David Pocock’s game, Richie McCaw’s game. When you have a favourable wind and you’re winning, it’s different."I personally believe I’ve had bigger moments for England.
It’s flattering that people have said some nice things, but rugby is transient. If we hadn’t won the Six Nations, I’d have been written off."Besides careering into rucks to ensure continuity and manhandling opposition ball-carriers, Haskell manufactured a number of crucial turnovers with sound decision-making on the floor. Proximity to Wallaby great George Smith, a superb signing for Wasps who has also overseen the odd training session with England, might have helped here.
Reluctant to proclaim a transformation, Haskell acknowledges that his record of sin-binnings – six in 67 Tests, the most in England history – keeps him an easy target for those keen to highlight indiscipline. He does hint that Jones’ style of man management probably extracts more from him than that of his predecessor Stuart Lancaster."If you are made to feel comfortable in an environment and the coach speaks to you in an appropriate way, you feel empowered," he says. "You’re always going to play better. Everyone makes mistakes. You’ve got to be comfortable that you’re not going to be instantly thrown out of the team for making one. That’s not a luxury I feel that I’ve had."
Haskell smiles wryly at the manner in which young players are now encouraged to take up part-time university degrees. He has taken a hands-on approach to off-field pursuits – from his flourishing fitness business to a more recent passion for DJing – throughout his career. This was not, however, always applauded.Extra-curricular activity"Because rugby is quite old-school, people don’t like [players doing different things]. We have tall poppy syndrome in this country anyway a little bit. If you break the mould, people get upset."
When I was coming through and I had a website, people would say: ‘He’s focused more on off-field stuff than he is on rugby’; ‘He’s The Brand.’ All this crap. [But] as long as you’re strong with your convictions, you work hard and your peers respect you, you should be able to do what you want to do."
Haskell credits stints in New Zealand and Japan before his return to Wasps in 2012 for reinforcing the required dedication to rugby. Girlfriend Chloe Madeley, a fitness blogger and daughter of television presenter couple Richard and Judy, has also been influential in locating a complementary balance."Using the word ‘rock’ is a bit cheesy and implies I’m emotionally breaking down all the time," says Haskell. "It’s not like that. She’s just very supportive."
On Saturday, Wasps face Saracens at the Madejski Stadium in a monumental European Champions Cup semi final. Up front, they must negotiate three pivotal components of England’s pack – wrecking ball Billy Vunipola and the precocious second-row pairing of George Kruis and Maro Itoje.
"I love Billy," says Haskell. "He’s really hard-working and humble. There’s a facade that he’s quiet, but he’s a key member of the England side and obviously such a destructive ball-carrier."I thought George was outstanding against France in that last [Six Nations] game, especially defensively in the lineout. He was thrust in at the deep end in terms of calling those lineouts, trying to run the show."Maro is an interesting one. When you’ve been around for a long time, you see players get hyped up. I don’t think it wasn’t warranted – I’d played against him and thought he was a good player – but certain pundits were saying he should have been England captain. I have to say though, he grew into that billing during the Six Nations. I thought he was fantastic. He whoops a lot, which I always bollock him about, but he’s a really good guy.
He has a massive future."Each of Haskell’s international teammates receives glowing praise. Still, the game represents a significant milestone for Wasps. After the move to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena rescued them from the brink of bankruptcy, off-field ambition has been matched with performances. Cantering into the Premiership playoffs, a team featuring Nathan Hughes, Elliot Daly, Charles Piutau, Joe Launchbury and company are stirring memories of the mid-2000s glory years.
You may also like
Posted on April 11th, 2016
Posted on April 14th, 2016
Posted on April 26th, 2016