Farewell James Haskell, an entertainer but also a great player

James Haskell

James Haskell retires at the end of the season and brings and an end a stellar career. No player has bled more and given more to the English game.

Farewell James Haskell

We should forget about the limelight headlines because ‘Hask’ has had one hell of a career. 17 years at the top of the game, speaks for itself. Rugby has never been so physical and brutally demanding on both body and mind, which makes Haskell’s longevity a huge achievement. Haskell made his debut while at school way back in 2002 when England rugby legends like Lawrence Dallaglio and Simon Shaw were at their peak. He was good enough to make his mark at Wasps, again, a significant achievement when you think of the talent that was around back then. The likes of Tom Rees, Lawrence Dallaglio, Paul Volley and Joe Worsley were all jostling for a back-row position.

The limelight should not overshadow the career

Haskell was often and at times unfairly labeled as someone who loved the limelight and loved an opinion. To a certain extent, both of these traits are true. After all, Hask is never short of a word or two (just look at his recent thoughts on Israel Folau) and is active on social media. However, beneath what is seemingly an outspoken and laddish exterior is a man who cares deeply about the game.

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Listening to the entertaining weekly ‘House of Rugby’ podcasts, Haskell in between the banter has raised some seriously important issues around the game. In one episode Haskell raised the comment on how professional players really are. Do the clubs as well as the players, truly understand the meaning of professionalism? This was not meant to be demeaning, more, educating the importance of nutrition and preparation. The game’s powers should take into consideration the credentials that Haskell has. You don’t last let alone excel in rugby for 17 years unless you prepare yourself physically, emotionally as well as mentally.

Opening new horizons made him a better player

Haskell won 77 caps for England. In anyone’s book that is a magnificent achievement. Hask was one of the rare few in English rugby who risked his international career by heading overseas to broaden his horizons. Successful stints with Stade Francais, the Ricoh Rams, and the Otago Highlanders undoubtedly improved his game. Haskell came back refreshed and recharged but also as a better rugby player. By being open to new rugby cultures and skills, Haskell did everything he could to be as good as he could.

It was perhaps Eddie Jones’ finest selection moment when he decided that James Haskell, Dylan Hartley, and Chris Robshaw were not going to be consigned to the scrapheap after England’s disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. Everyone, including me, could not believe that these three players should be considered. How wrong we all were.

2016 was Haskell’s greatest year

Haskell was magnificent in the 2016/2017 seasons. His finest moment came on that victorious 3-0 tour of Australia in the summer of 2016. Haskell was deservedly ‘man of series’ and led the total decimation of Australia’s illustrious back row. The iconic clip of Haskell barreling David Pocock over in that crucial first test in Brisbane has been replayed over and over. On that tour, Haskell embodied everything positive about Eddie Jones’ new era.

Jones wanted his men fitter, faster and stronger than what had gone on before. Haskell was the pinup boy of that regime. It was not just the power that Hask offered. His happy go nature, experience, and presence were a massive influence on the squad. Eddie Jones put it perfectly yesterday when stating that Haskell was one of those ‘glue’ players that kept the squad together and tight.

Never a backward step

Hask only knew one way and that was forward. He was tough and totally unselfish as a player. If there needed to be a clearout, a body to get into a ruck or a maul, chances were that Hask was the first man there. Haskell’s running game was much underrated and perhaps underused. He could make linebreaks, had a quick turn of pace and his angles of running were at times excellent. Rarely did one see Haskell knocked backward, however many a player around the globe has felt the full force of a Haskell tackle. Take a look at the hit Haskell put on David Pocock in Australia.

Even better was the tackle that Haskell in Stade Francais colors put on the massive Toulouse and Manu Samoa prop, Census Johnston.

Mr. Dependable

Haskell was a fine international player and was a Mr. Dependable for England. His last match in an England shirt came against Ireland at Twickenham in March 2018. The Irish put away a horribly out of form England team to take home the Grand Slam. Haskell was still one of England’s best. Time and again he carried and tackled himself into a standstill against a relentless tide of green. Despite the humiliating defeat, Haskell could not have given any more. This in kind, is how he should be remembered as a rugby player.

It’s time to give James Haskell the credit he deserves. He has had a wonderful career both at a club and international level. It is not just on the pitch where we give thanks to Mr. Haskell. Off the pitch, he was an entertainer and always made himself available for autographs. In an era where rugby gets ever more serious, it is a real shame that Hask has hung up his boots. Hopefully, he will stay involved in rugby because he still has much to give.


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