At 6’3 and over 18 stone, James Haskell is a hard man to miss. Rugby, however, is only one part of his career. He’s an author and a businessman. He also informs us that he’s undefeated at chess – although admittedly, he has only played one game. “I want to be the best rugby player I can be, so that’s my main focus. […] Now, if I lived and breathed that entire thing the whole time, when I had a great moment, it would be unbelievable, but when I get red carded, I would… my head would come off. I would be, emotionally, quite down. But, because I’ve got other things outside of my main occupation, so whether that’s health, fitness, DJ, music, writing, whatever it means, it means I’ve got distractions. So, once that thing’s going badly, I can put that down and I can come back to it.”
By mentioning the red card, he is of course referencing his tackle-gone-wrong against Jaime Roberts on 13th January, for which he was sent off. During the interview he explained, “I never intended to hurt someone, knock someone out. No one ever does. […] it was only when I turned around and looked that I realised he was hurt.” He explains that, as a player, you can’t concentrate on the dangers of rugby: “It’s a contact sport. It’s what you sign up for.” When asked what can be done to further promote the women’s sport, he says, “Unfortunately, it all comes down to money” and admits that it will take a lot more exposure for the game to develop.
With regards to tackling, he says: “You have to just get on with it. With anything in life, you go in there half-hearted or you think too much about it, overthink anything, you’re more likely to mess up – to fail.” This is not the only piece of life advice he imparts. “I know you’ve got deadlines, I know there’s always that pressure on, but, y’know, if you think about the amount of time that you’ve spent on your phone scrolling through stupid stuff on Instagram, looking at memes or watching Netflix, you’ll probably yourself half an hour in the day to do some training, go outside, play a bit of team sport. […] You get one opportunity at this kind of thing… what you put in is essentially what you get out.” Motivation, he explains, can only come from within yourself. “The only people who succeed in life are those who are hard working.”
Despite his prolific posting on social media, James Haskell doesn’t seem as totally enamoured of it as you might think: “And what you forget is nobody, unless you’re really realistic… is actually telling the truth […] creates a lot of false idols.” He admits social media probably creates more problems than it solves, though his view isn’t totally negative. “With social media, it’s my media, I control it. So without going mad, you can basically break down a few barriers and show people what it’s actually like.”
He references videos he made during the lions tour which provided some of the most candid insight into as to what life was like for the players during this time. Haskell initially missed out on the selection, but following fellow England teammate Billy Vunipola’s injury, he was called up to squad. He spoke about spending time with other Lions, as team mates, rather than opponents. “A lot of people forget that when you go onto the field, people change persona. Johnny Sexton, on the field, is an absolute nightmare. Like, I thought I was never going to get off with him. Same with Dan Biggar. Off the field, unbelievable guys. Really good guys.”
He cites David Brent and Alan Partridge as inspiration for how he likes to come across. “I love that kind of thing, because I think he’s a genius. I love that awkward comedy. […] I’ve kind of tried to filter them in because it’s kind of a homage to both of them really.” This kind of comedy is a staple of his match-day coach-ride Netflix session – with Blackadder being another favourite.
As for our chances in the six nations… well, despite injury, don’t be too down, as James Haskell thinks they’re ‘really good’. He says, “There’s so much depth in the squad, I think there’s so much talent in there. I believe that whoever comes in and fills those vacant spaces will do an incredible job. Eddie has a habit, with his coaching staff, Paul Gustard, Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley, that they have an ability to get the best out of players.”
James Haskell’s book, The Perfect Fit, comes out January 17.