The highlight of last week was getting haircut and going for a coffee with Billy Vunipola
England flanker James Haskell lifts lid on secrets to Eddie Jones'success:
Eddie Jones has won all 17 of his Test matches in charge of England. As the self-proclaimed ‘Archbishop of Banterbury', James Haskell's reputation as England's joker-in-the-pack is well established, but even he admits there is little room for fun under Eddie Jones's strict tutelage.
Flanker Haskell's international career has gone from strength to strength since the Australian coach took over in December 2016, as proved by last summer's sensational displays in Australia which earned him the man-of-the-series award despite playing in only two Tests.
While Haskell — whose attention to detail and meticulous preparation goes unseen by the wider public — is one of the few England players who dares to engage in repartee with the notoriously sharp-witted Jones, he concedes his head coach's relentless drive for improvement leaves little time for laughs.
He said: ‘With Eddie and the coaching staff it is so much on, "Can you improve? How did you train? What can you do better? I need you to speak in this meeting. You've got to do this, can you do that?"
`Fun stuff? That's gone... I don't have time for any stuff outside of rugby. The highlight of my week was I went for a coffee with Billy (Vunipola) yesterday, we both got haircuts. I took him out for a day in London.
‘No one ever escapes Eddie's banter. He takes it in good stride as well. There are only a few brave enough to give it back to him. It is enjoyable but it's about learning and it is full-on from 7.30am to when you finish stretching at 8.30 or nine at night.
‘All I get to do is settle down in the evening and watch a bit of Netflix and then listen to Harry Potter and go to bed.'
Sidelined by a serious foot injury for much of this season, Haskell returned to England's starting line-up against Italy after being handed a finisher's role in the narrow opening two wins over France and Wales.
While Jones has been keen — in public at least — to put a gloss on England's displays, Haskell gave an honest assessment of their progress or otherwise so far in the tournament.
‘We probably haven't put in the performances that we want to and we understand that,' he said. ‘We have started slowly and want to change that. We're working hard on adjusting things. Every week we've been quite close to firing, then had the guys come off the bench and kicked us on. ‘It's a combination. We've not had a really good defensive performance or a really good attacking performance.”
“ We've been a bit middle-of-the road, so we're looking to get all that right.' The 6ft 3in Haskell will form part of England's back row alongside Nathan Hughes (6ft 5in) and Maro Itoje (6ft 5in) which will tower over their Scottish counterparts. Scotland are expected to play their game close to the ground while looking to attack England's breakdown ball far more than Italy, whose no ruck tactics so infuriated Jones.
Haskell says England need to recapture the no-fear approach which has taken them to the brink of a world record 18 successive Test wins. ‘Emotionally it always feels like we're in the right place,' he said. ‘But maybe it just comes down to individuals, making sure they switch on and take the risks.”
‘International rugby is about taking risks, not standing still and seeing what the opposition do. ‘Our back row has changed quite a lot and we spend time working on how we're going to do things, it's never back row on back row. It's about picking a back row that complements a skill set.
‘We've got guys who are a good mix across, so that whoever you slot in and out, they can deal with anything really. If you have any desire to be successful you have to go 100 per cent.' Haskell, 31, will win his 74th cap at Twickenham on Saturday to become England's second most experienced player behind captain Dylan Hartley, who will earn his 83rd cap against Scotland.
Silverware proved largely elusive in the early part of their careers with a solitary Six Nations title under Martin Johnson in 2011 to show for their collective endeavours before last season's Grand Slam under Jones. He said: ‘I always look back with Dylan and we talk about seizing the opportunity now. There is no point in having X amount of caps if you don’t win any silverware to go with them”