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EXCLUSIVE: Haskell reveals new strategy in bid to reclaim England spot

By Chris Jones
Wasps and England back-row James Haskell

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.”


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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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FEATURE Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma