James Haskell has turned to a sports psychologist who helps mixed martial arts fighters and poker players in a bid to regain his England place and win a new contract for next season.
Haskell was left out of Eddie Jones’s squad for the Autumn test matches but the broken jaw suffered by Maro Itoje, who has been playing lock and flanker, has opened the way for the Wasps forward to push his claims for a recall to aid England’s bid for an historic third successive Six Nations title.
Haskell, who toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in the summer, is never scared to try something new and believes sports psychology is an aid that rugby still doesn’t properly utilize.
Haskell has revealed he regularly speaks to Elliot Roe, an American based English mind coach, and the flanker’s improved form for Wasps heading into Sunday’s daunting European Champions Cup clash at La Rochelle has been impressive, prompting speculation that his test exile could be very short.
The 32-year-old who has won 75 England caps, was in typically robust form as Wasps defeated Leicester 32-25 on Saturday and helped the Coventry based club withstand a fearsome physical assault from the Tigers. Haskell is out of contract at the end of the season and while he wants to finish his career at Wasps, he knows the arrival of Brad Shields from New Zealand will be a factor in the squad make up.
He said: “Whenever you play Leicester then physicality is always first on their agenda and in the last four games I have been really happy with what I have done and I am in a good place.
“I have tweaked a few things and it seems to be working. I am coming off the field feeling great and for me it was a lot about the mind-set off the field, working with a sports psychologist. It is about going into a game with a clear head and trying to then be more efficient during a match. I have always trained hard and maybe I was working too hard and when I took a look at my performances I concentrated on my positioning and tried to do things differently.
“I think sport psychology is so overlooked and I have done some work with Elliot who also works with UFC, MMA guys and poker players and I feel it has worked. When you do try something new and it clicks then you really feel the benefit and while I am not turning in Superman, my goal is to come off the field happy with what I have done.
“Everyone looks at making physical improvements; can I run faster etc… The mind is something you need to look into and even if you are playing your best ever rugby then why are you doing that? How can you keep improving?
“We play around 30 games a season and to emotionally be up for every one of them and put your body on the line is something you need to constantly review. I work with Elliot who is based in America and I wanted to try something different and there are always pressures on players. He works with the top poker players and UFC fighters.”
Haskell now comes up against a La Rochelle team that has a fearsome home record and have All Black Victor Vito as their main ball carrier, a player Haskell has faced at test and Super Rugby level. “La Rochelle weren’t in the Top 14 when I was at Stade Francais:” said Haskell.” They are now a force to be reckoned with and have the biggest pack of forwards you are ever going to see and this is why you want to play in Europe. Victor is a super athletic player and really dynamic ball carrier.”