- Haskell closes in on first cap since March 2013
- Flanker eager to continue superb club form
A six-month stint in Super Rugby with the Highlanders back in 2012 provided James Haskell with an invaluable insight into New Zealand’s rugby culture, and the London Wasps back row is determined to use that education as a springboard to success with England this summer.
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Haskell was called into Stuart Lancaster’s 30-man squad for the first Test against New Zealand yesterday and, should he take the field on June 7 in Auckland for what would be a 51st cap, it would be his first international contest since the 30-3 defeat to Wales last March.
Proclaiming himself “delighted” to be involved in the England set-up again, Haskell outlined the importance of a consistent season in club colours. The 29 year-old enjoyed a sterling campaign with Wasps, which culminated in Saturday’s 20-6 defeat over Stade Francais in Paris that secured Champions Cup qualification.
Collecting the fans’ and players’ player of the year awards on the way, he forced his way back into Lancaster’s thinking with a series of muscular, industrious displays. While under no illusions as to the competition for back-row places, Haskell seemed eager to capitalise on such form.
“I am massively excited,” explained the flanker, who actually found out about his involvement on the Eurostar back from France this weekend. “Stuart and his coaching staff have created a very special environment here. Being part of that has always been my driving force and luckily things have gone well for Wasps.
“Obviously I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff there. Guys like Brad Davis have really helped me this season. The players have been brilliant too and I’ve loved having an opportunity to captain them working alongside Chris Bell.
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“I’m delighted to be [in camp] but it’s always a double-edged sword. It’s nice to get the bag of kit, but I really want to play, not just make up numbers. I want to push the guys who are in pole position as hard as I can. Luckily they are all good lads, which makes life easier.
“I’m a newcomer again in this environment and I just want to keep my head down. I can maybe pass little pieces of advice on when I’m having a coffee with someone, but hopefully my playing will speak volumes. Nobody really cares that I have 50 caps, it’s more about how you perform.”
Haskell’s foray into the Super 15 saw him play alongside current Kiwi internationals Aaron Smith and Ben Smith – both of whom have become influential figures in Steve Hansen’s backline. Regular derbies against the Chiefs, Blues, Crusaders and Hurricanes meant constant match-ups against other All Blacks too.
Looking back at what was a fantastic experience, Haskell stressed how much England will learn in New Zealand – a country whose appetite for rugby is all-consuming.
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“[Playing over there], you realise that the All Blacks and Super 15 guys are human. They’re not these rugby machines that can do all this stuff we can’t do. We’re fed on highlight reels over here.
“I didn’t know what to expect but what I did realise was that they are very professional and to beat them you have to be at your best. They are beatable though, they are human and they do make mistakes. It’s perhaps to prepare for a game against them because you know that second best isn’t good enough.
“Getting beaten at Twickenham [38-21 in December 2012] in the fashion they did will have hurt them – they are proud guys. Richie McCaw has lost 13 times in about 124 Tests. He’ll remember every one of those.
“In England, young kids want to become footballers. In New Zealand, they want to be rugby players and the All Blacks are held on a pedestal. To go over there and play will make everyone in this squad a better player. Done right, it’s a great experience.”
“Stuart has revolutionised what we’re doing here, so to go over there and show that is important. To go over there and beat New Zealand would be unbelievable.”