Haskell aims for European Cup Reunion
James Haskell aims for European Cup final nine-year reunion
May 2007 is only nine years ago, which in most walks of life is a relatively short period of time.
While this may not be the case in a career as physically punishing as professional rugby, it still comes as something of a surprise- to see that only two of the 44 players from that year’s European Cup final between Wasps and Leicester remain part of this year’s semi final line-ups.
Argentinian prop Marcos Ayerza is closing in on his third century of Leicester Tigers appearances, and will hope to send his club to Lyon this weekend by despatching the one remaining non-Premiership contender, Racing Metro, in Sunday’s Nottingham semi final.
Twenty four hours earlier in Reading, Wasps’ skipper James Haskell attempts to join Ayerza in a 2007 reunion, when he leads his side out against Saracens.
He was a promising 22-year-old back-rower back then, who emerged from the bench with 30 minutes remaining to replace Lawrence Dallaglio, the man many have described as his Wasps’ ‘father figure.’
Haskell soon played a key role in repelling a prolonged period of Leicester pressure, before being caught just short of Tigers’ line after making a 60 metre break. Those were the days.
Haskell’s key contributions on Saturday will centre on a high tackle count and imposing himself at the breakdown, and he knows that in both these areas containing his former Wasps’ teammate Billy Vunipola will be an important consideration.
“Billy Vunipola is one of the most destructive ball-carriers in world rugby,” he says, “and you have to respect everything he does.
“There will be lots of attention on him and his brother Mako, and sometimes that allows someone else to play.
“The best way to take Billy down is to tackle him round the legs even if it might take three of you to stop him, and we have the players to do that.”
Haskell and Vunipola both missed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre at Allianz Park through their Six Nations duties. Wasps were less affected by international calls than Saracens, and on a day when everything went in their favour Haskell’s club duly swamped their hosts 64-23.
Wasps’ skipper discounts this game’s relevance to Saturday’s clash, and says he is expecting a gruellingly hard contest with little between the teams.
“It will be a totally different affair at the weekend to the game at the Allianz in February,” he says.
“It will be a huge occasion at Reading, and Saracens will have all their international players back.
“They are a very physical outfit who will be disappointed about what happened. They pride themselves on their defence, and they’re aware it wasn’t good enough on that day.
“I’m expecting a massive encounter, a test-match level game where you don’t want to leave anything in the tank.”
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