Wasps' star James Haskell hopes door isn't closed on his England career ahead of Six Nations campaign
With the disaster that was the 2015 Rugby World Cup now firmly consigned to the dustbin of history, England take their first faltering steps towards Japan 2019 at Murrayfield on February 6.
A new head coach, Australian Eddie Jones, is in situ, as are the sizeable group of assistants and support staff without which top-level rugby now seems unable to function.
In the next few days, having first taken time to consult with a wide range Aviva Premiership coaches, and presumably even longer to understand the RFU player selection and release agreements within which he must operate, Jones will make his first 32-strong squad announcement, and also name his captain.
The new England supremo will weigh up a range of considerations, with the priority given to longer-term development versus winning now, his preferred playing style and current form versus proven international ability being top of the list.
This changing of the management guard means a number of Wasps will be watching their phones more keenly than usual over the coming days. The timing of Wasps’ recent run of poor results is unfortunate for those players with England aspirations, however, a number will still enter Jones’ thinking, and possibly even be part of his captaincy debate.
This list is led by co-captain James Haskell, who made his continued international ambitions abundantly clear during his recent contract re-signing discussions.
“I very much want to carry on playing for England,” he said.
“If I took myself out of that, by going to Super 15 again, I would be spelling the end of my international career.
“I am not willing to do that, I think I am playing well enough to be involved, and want to at least put my hand up for selection.
“Going out there and trying to perform and to play in the white shirt is why I get up in the morning. One day that door will be closed, but you are a long time retired, and at the moment that is my motivation.”
Haskell’s situation is an interesting one, not least because all three contenders for England’s No.6 shirt are also possible captains.
He is also something of a ‘Marmite’ figure, whose prominent profile irks as many as his obvious energy and enthusiasm for Wasps and England attracts.
Haskell is playing the best rugby of his career currently, having developed his skill base beyond being primarily a destructive player. He has experience earned in France and the Southern Hemisphere and brings 62-caps-worth of expertise despite only being 30.
The powerful flanker is also a highly respected leader, and a ‘big’ personality, whose approach seems ideally suited for an upgrade from club captaincy to the international stage. In the debit column, Haskell’s place in the starting line-up may not be assured, depending on Jones’ view of how he wants his back row to play.
Incumbent No.6 Tom Wood has the ‘man in the shadows’ qualities of some of the greatest blindsides, but has gone through something of a lean spell both at the World Cup, and subsequently with misfiring Northampton. Meanwhile, Chris Robshaw may not have proved to be his country’s most tactically astute skipper, but his Harlequins’ form since switching sides of the scrum after the World Cup has been outstanding.
So when his phone rings next week, the call could either summon Haskell to sit at Jones’s right hand, or cast him into the international wilderness. It may well be the toughest choice England’s new coach has to make, and also the one with the biggest longer-term significance.
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