James Haskell: England can handle ‘hostile’ Six Nations opener against Scotland
James Haskell is confident England will survive a “hostile” Murrayfield challenge against Scotland in their opening RBS Six Nations clash.
The Wasps captain looks likely to have a key role at Murrayfield on February 6, when Eddie Jones launches his reign as the England head coach with a new-look team.
Haskell, with 62 caps, is set to play in the problem No7 jersey previously worn by ex-captain Chris Robshaw, who will be used as a blindside flanker against the Scots.
Haskell said: “It is going to be a hostile environment and we are under no illusions about how good the Scottish team are following the World Cup when they were unlucky not to reach the semi-finals. They have an abrasive coach in Vern Cotter and have recruited good players but there will be enough boys with experience to drive us on.
“I have every confidence that what I can impart and the massive experience that Dylan [Hartley] has as captain means we have players who understand what it takes.
“All the boys in this squad have played in big club games and the way we train means there shouldn’t be any shock to the system.”
To help Haskell come to terms with the openside role, George Smith, the veteran Australia flanker, was due to join the England squad session today to give a masterclass on ball-stealing at the breakdown — something he has been doing all season as Haskell’s team mate at Wasps.
Haskell (right), who is unbeaten in six matches against the Scots, is likely to be selected in the back row alongside Robshaw and Billy Vunipola, the Saracens No8, and he will use the frustration of the World Cup, which saw England fail to reach the knock-out stages, as motivation at the start of a Six Nations campaign that has seen Jones’s men installed as the favourites.
Haskell has no problem working with an Australian head coach in the England set-up. He said: “It’s not an issue. I know people will see it as something different but there are lots of southern hemisphere influences in the game.”
While Haskell is set to earn his 63rd cap, Jack Clifford, the Harlequins flanker, is on course to make his debut from the bench.
Clifford is joined in the squad by fellow uncapped players Ollie Devoto (Bath) and Paul Hill (Northampton).
Alex Goode’s outstanding form for Saracens is pushing Mike Brown hard for the No15 jersey but Jones needs to pick proven combinations, meaning the Quins man is favourite to form the back three with Bath’s Anthony Watson and Exeter’s Jack Nowell.
Jones wants to pair Jonathan Joseph (Bath) with Owen Farrell, of Saracens, in midfield rather than give a starting debut to Bath centre Devoto, with Leicester prop Dan Coles likely to hold off the challenge of Hill, the Northampton tight-head.
Saracens lock Maro Itoje must wait for his chance after he was one of 10 players released to play for their clubs in this weekend’s matches
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