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
“[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’.
“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.”
Lions starting XV - Six Nations round three
Lions starting XV - Six Nations round three
1/15 15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Miles clear of Mike Brown and Rob Kearney and looks a much better option for running the ball than Leigh Halfpenny right now. Hogg has been nothing short of brilliant going forwards, and despite not possessing the kicking option or the defensive nous of Halfpenny, he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet.
2/15 14. Liam Williams (Wales)
Ousts international teammate George North after the Northampton Saints wing proved anonymous against Scotland. Williams has scored a try in every round so far and is proving his weight in gold as a finisher, while he’s also accustomed to coming off his wing to find work.
3/15 13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
He is still the safest option at outside centre, but the chasing pack are closing in after a strong weekend for 13s. Garry Ringsrose is improving with every week, while Huw Jones offers more with the ball in hand than Davies, whose powerful and direct running keep him in the side. Ben Te’o also showed what he can offer, though time is running out for him and Jonathan Joseph is likely to come back into the England side to face Scotland.
4/15 12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
Henshaw gives you the understanding with Jonathan Sexton combined with a player who not only thrives on front-foot ball but also can cope with beating the gain line when on the back-foot – a very handy trait to have in the locker. He can also cover at outside centre, which on a Lions tour is a major boost.
5/15 11. Elliot Daly (England)
Deals with every challenge thrown at him and crossed the try line for the second match running to help trigger the fightback against Italy. Possesses a reliable, howitzer of a left foot, which is Halfpenny is out of the side will be a useful tool in New Zealand.
6/15 10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
Returned in style to force Owen Farrell out of the side and prove he will not give up the Lions 10 jersey easily. Injuries have dogged him this season, but it took him 40 minutes to show what he can offer as he got the Irish backline firing on all cylinders.
7/15 9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
Had Greig Laidlaw been available this week, Murray could still have forced his way back in to the side. A man-of-the-match display in Dublin – including the only try of the game – helped Ireland record back-to-back wins and his box-kicking remains the best in the business.
8/15 1. Mako Vunipola (England)
His impact from the bench was certainly noticeable as the English scrum finally got the better of the Italian pack, and with plenty of time for the loosehead to regain full fitness, there’s no reason why he won’t don the No 1 shirt on 24 June as long as he avoids any more setbacks.
9/15 2. Rory Best (Ireland)
He’s still ahead of Dylan Hartley, but Jamie George is breathing down his neck and it’s only down to Best’s strong performance against France – with a 100 per cent lineout record from 17 throws – and a solid defensive showing that keeps him in the side. With leaders elsewhere though, George might just find himself in favour come the end of the Six Nations.
10/15 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
He re-established the gap between himself and Dan Cole with a very impressive outing in the loose for Ireland, and he is also a third of one of Europe’s strongest front-rows right now.
11/15 4. Joe Launchbury (England)
The England lock has to come into the side after yet another man-of-the-match performance against Italy. The Wasps skipper is giving Warren Gatland plenty to think about, having proven himself in the lineout and also with his desire to carry. But with Alun Wyn Jones, Richie Gray, Devin Toner and Courtney Lawes also knocking on the door, not to mention the injured George Kruis hoping to somehow prove his fitness, it’s an awfully difficult task to pick the second-row.
12/15 5. Jonny Gray (Scotland)
Gray shifts from four to five but remains the standout option in the Six Nations based on the last three rounds. Having started the championship as possible squad inclusion, he’s suddenly looking undroppable from the first XV.
13/15 6. Maro Itoje (England)
Itoje offers too much to the squad to leave out. He packs down in the second-row for England, leads the lineout by example with another two steals at the weekend, and is both a formidable tackler and carrier. He simply has to slot in somewhere, and he’s currently making the No 6 shirt his own.
14/15 7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)
Tipuric holds onto the shirt despite experiencing a difficult week given that there is not much competition around. Neither James Haskell nor John Hardie – now out for the rest of the Six Nations – were able to take their chance at the weekend, and while Sean O’Brien and Hamish Watson impressed, you’d still rather have a livewire like Tipuric in the side.
15/15 8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Billy Vunipola finally drops out of the side after hinting that a Six Nations return may be beyond him. In comes Ireland’s vice-captain Jamie Heaslip, and with Taulupe Faletau yet to find his best from the replacements’ bench, it’s Heaslip who has led the way with strong outings against Italy and France.
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.”Reuse content