As the England rugby chiefs investigate the team’s pool stage exit at its home World Cup and pundits lament the northern hemisphere’s failings in recent weeks, James Haskell says his attentions are set firmly in the opposite direction.
The Rugby Football Union is seeking input from players in its review into how the Red Rose wilted on the biggest stage and while the Wasps captain is happy to chip in, he is much more comfortable discussing the future than dwelling on the past.
“Obviously I’d still love to be at the World Cup,” Haskell told City A.M. “But that’s not the case so I adapt pretty quickly.
“The most important thing in any review is that the players first and foremost go away and improve their game. We were the guys playing and if anyone asks me for feedback then I’ll be honest and open but I’m much more concerned on my own improvement and getting better as a player.
“The structural issues are nothing to do with us. It’s up to those higher powers to make those decisions and luckily it’s got nothing to do with me.”
England’s World Cup campaign was preceded with much fanfare – concerts in honour of the team at the O2 Arena, advertising campaigns built around its stars – and bookended by a barrage of criticism from former players, pundits and fans.
Former national team captain Will Carling drew the wrath of the England camp for saying head coach Stuart Lancaster treated the squad like “schoolchildren” while Haskell also found himself at odds with World Cup winner Neil Back over his use of a selfie stick before the opening match against Fiji.
Haskell, who was not in the match squad that day and was watching from the stands, says his response to such criticism is to “grin and bear it”.
“People criticise all the time but you’ve just got to smile, move on and live your life. I think everyone’s entitled to an opinion but it’s based on what they know and a lot of the time they’ve got no idea because they haven’t been there,” he adds.
“Rugby is one sport that dramatically changes the longer you’re out of the game. The understanding of what goes on, how it’s run, what you do and what’s acceptable and what rugby players are turning into – it’s changed.
“As a team everyone did what they could, tried as hard as they could and it didn’t work out in the end. I don’t have any disappointment when watching it [the World Cup], I’ve dealt with that now and you have to move on. I’m looking forward to being back with Wasps. We’ve got a massive season ahead of us.”
Fortunately then, Haskell has the chance to drown out all that World Cup noise when leading out Wasps in both the Premiership and the European Champions Cup.
The club captain missed the opening day trip to Harlequins in the Premiership, a 26-21 loss, but is set to feature against Bath this weekend in Wasps’ first game of the season at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, the club’s new home since last December.
“The most important thing for me is to go back to the club I love and play with guys who are good friends of mine and put a performance in,” he says.
“I think Wasps is a very exciting place to be at the moment. At the Ricoh Arena we’ve gone from an average gate of 4,000 fans to on average 17,000. We plan to do good things in the Premiership, we’re back in Europe and we want to keep performing.”
James Haskell was representing Fresh Fitness Food, London's premium provider of bespoke nutrition for athletes and professionals.