Ollie Phillips: Marmite James Haskell will be British and Irish Lions gold but his call-up could impact Premiership final

Ollie Phillips
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England Captain's Run
Haskell (right) has been called into the British and Irish Lions squad following Billy Vunipola's (left) withdrawal (Source: Getty)

Saturday's Premiership final against Exeter Chiefs is a massive moment for Wasps and they were thrown an unexpected curveball earlier this week when flanker James Haskell was added to the British and Irish Lions squad.

While the news is positive for Wasps as well as Haskell, the furore surrounding his call-up was a sideshow that Dai Young’s side simply did not need prior to the club’s biggest match for the best part of a decade.

Haskell will be flying to New Zealand on Monday, just two days after the final, and I don’t care who you are but any player is bound to have an eye on that. It’s not ideal for Wasps that one of their key players has that sort of distraction.

In terms of the decision to add Haskell to the squad as a replacement for No8 Billy Vunipola, who requires further treatment on an ongoing shoulder problem, I cannot believe head coach Warren Gatland didn’t select him in the first place.

It’s very sad for Vunipola and a huge loss for the Lions, so much so that I believe it dramatically dents their prospects of success against New Zealand in the three-Test series, the first of which takes place at Eden Park, Auckland on 24 June.

With regards to Haskell, who is a man of humour and fun, he will be an amazing tourist and the level of enjoyment the others players will get from him being there will be out of this world.

Some people say he’s Marmite – you either love him or hate him – but I think he’s absolute gold and just the type of person the Lions need on tour. He’ll be a huge presence on and off the field and someone who understands New Zealand culture having played for Highlanders.

I used to live with James and I know that featuring for the Lions is a lifelong ambition, which makes me wonder what impact the call-up may have on him through the prism of the Premiership final.

Whatever happens at Twickenham, it’s great for rugby that we’ll see a fresh name on the trophy compared to recent times. For years Wasps have been living off former glories – they won three successive Premiership crowns between 2003 and 2005 – and there have been some dark days when they’ve struggled financially and looked on the brink of going bust.

But the club made a punchy and controversial move to play their home games in Coventry from 2015 and it’s paid off handsomely.

While Wasps have more star names, Exeter, who were promoted to the Premiership for the first time in 2010, are a formidable side with an unbelievable togetherness and unity.

The Chiefs have the right players in key positions, the likes of Gareth Steenson at No10 and Thomas Waldrom in the back row, while wing Jack Nowell provides the X-factor. For me, with Exeter playing the way they are, they have to be favourites.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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