James Haskell driven on by a fear of his England career ending at any moment as he brushes off criticism

The ultra-confident flanker revealed that twice in the last 17 months he has feared that the end was nigh on his international career

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James Haskell insists the criticism he received in the wake of England’s troublesome victory over Italy two weeks ago is like water off a duck's back, despite the side facing their toughest questions since Eddie Jones took charge 16 months ago.

The Wasps back-row faced a Twitter backlash when he and captain, Dylan Hartley, asked Romain Poite what they wanted to see at the breakdown, given that Italy had taken the unusual yet legal tactic to avoid rucking at all costs and negate the offside line to stymie England’s attack.

Haskell decided to take to social media after the match to defend himself and criticise those that were quick to jump on him, given that England eventually figured out how to penetrate the Italian defence and secure a 35-16 victory. But he insisted this week, ahead of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup encounter with Scotland, that he doesn’t let any negativity affect him, and instead is hoping that he can turn the Twitter airwaves into a happy place.

“When anything happens, the passion of following England comes out,” Haskell said. “If you ask people if they support rugby, they just say, ‘Yeah, England’. People are quite surprised there is even a Premiership, let alone anything else.

“Everyone always comes out and gets very passionate. I’m on a one-man mission to make social media a positive environment so I try to be straight-talking and share my opinion. Some people like it, some people don’t. That’s why you’ve got a block button.

“You’ve got a have a really thick skin about things like that. Everything I do in those environments is for the best for the team. The thing with social media is that it has given everyone a voice. As we have learned by looking at certain things recently – I’d quite like to go to America so I won’t go into too much detail – some people shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to tweet and say what they want. There’s that expression – opinions are like s***, everyone’s got one and everyone thinks theirs doesn’t stink.”

31-year-old Haskell faced a fair deal of criticism early in his England career for his confidence being perceived as arrogance, but since Jones arrived at the helm the flanker appears to have knuckled down and allowed his rugby to do the talking, proving one of England’s key players in the series whitewash in Australia last summer.

But the second Test Down Under saw Haskell suffer a nasty toe injury that required surgery and kept him sidelined for the best part of seven months, and there were times during his rehabilitation where he feared his England career was over. Little did he know at the time that it would be that fear that would drive him on to regain his fitness and return for the opening match of the campaign, albeit among the replacements.

All I knew I had to do was to play well for Wasps because my desire to play for England wasn’t over
James Haskell

“[With] my foot, that was about dealing with that in little bits,” he said. “I was very lucky because I’d always see my sports psychologist, my Mrs was fantastic, the Wasps medical team was great, Eddie was great. All those kind of people, Dai [Young, Wasps director of rugby] was fantastic just keeping me in there and what I did was take it one day at a time.

“You’d have one day where you’d go out running and within 10 minutes of running you’d think ‘my foot’s in hell, I can’t do it’ and it was just about sticking with it.”

It wasn’t the first time Haskell feared his international career was over. 17 months ago, England were dumped out of their home World Cup, ending Stuart Lancaster’s reign as head coach, four long years of preparation and potentially Haskell’s return to the test rugby stage. He faced a long four-month spell of uncertainty, until new head coach Jones not only selected him in his squad for the Six Nations, but named him as the starting openside flanker.

“You’ve got to move on. You can’t just sit around, you’ve got to move on,” Haskell explained. “Imagine going to Dai Young ‘sorry mate I can’t train today, I’ve got to go have a cry’.

Haskell has found himself driven on by a fear of his England career ending at any moment (Getty)

“All I knew I had to do was to play well for Wasps because my desire to play for England wasn’t over. That was it, that’s what you’ve got to do because you’ve got to constantly move forward and you’ve got to take the learning from defeat and the learning from disappointment. But it’s that compartmentalisation, if I got upset about all the stuff that gets said or if I didn’t do things or get written off, I mean I’ve been written off more times that some of the government’s tax returns but I just keep plodding along.”

He added: “I think there’s always that case when you’re not as successful as you want to be. I mean I didn’t play in that World Cup, I played 10 minutes against Wales and I played…I can’t remember how long I played against Uruguay.

“You always want to finish well and that’s what goes back to what I said, it’s really important to make the most of the opportunities that you have, it’s not just about taking the shirt, getting a cap and clocking off. There’s no point doing that, I’d rather get one cap, one win, as opposed to loads of caps and no wins because that’s what’s important really.”