Half-time in Haskell's rugby adventure
February 24, 2012
James Haskell will be back in Wasps' colours next season following a spell with the Highlanders © Getty Images
James Haskell bid sayonara to Japan on Sunday after his short stint in the Land of the Rising Sun finished with Ricoh Black Rams failing to advance to the All-Japan Championship (AJC).
"Japanese adventure came to an end today, with Ricoh loosing (sic) to Kobe. It's been amazing, I have made some good friends," the England international tweeted soon after his side's 32-19 loss to Kobe Kobelco Steelers.
Haskell arrived in Japan shortly after the Rugby World Cup along with Ma'a Nonu, and like the All Blacks centre, is now heading south to play in the Super Rugby competition.
Having helped Ricoh reach a respectable seventh in the Top League - Sunday's game was a wild card play-off for the season-ending AJC - Haskell is headed for Dunedin where he'll play for Jamie Joseph's Highlanders.
It is, as Haskell put it, the second stage of his rugby adventure. And while the decision to spend a year away from England has meant Haskell has not been considered for the national team, the 26-year-old is adamant he made the right decision.
"You can never regret a decision you made with conviction because you obviously think things through,"he told ESPNscrum at the Black Rams' training ground in the Tokyo suburb of Futako-Tamagawa.
"I took the letter the Rugby Football Union sent out seriously," he said of the RFU's communication to players that only those playing in England would be considered for the national team post World Cup 2011.
"I didn't think it was the right time to return to Wasps after the World Cup and I always wanted to play in Super Rugby. So when [former Wasps coach] Leon Holden [now at Ricoh] contacted me and asked if I wanted to play in Japan before I went to Super Rugby it was the perfect opportunity to get the best of both worlds."
Haskell has spent the time in Japan working on his support play - not to mention listening to a tale or two from Nonu - and hopes his time in the Top League and subsequent foray into Super Rugby will help him develop as player.
Haskell said that since leaving the England camp at the end of the World Cup, he has yet to be contacted by anyone involved within the new management team. But he accepts that's part of the territory of putting his international career on temporary hold.
"Of course, it might have been better and easier if I had stayed involved, but you sometimes need to take a few backward steps in order to go forward," he said. "I took a risk and I may never play for England again, so yes it will be interesting to see what happens."
Haskell said he has tried to concentrate solely on doing his job for the Black Rams and trying to improve himself as a player.
"That's not to say I am not missing England but it's not as hard as I thought. It would have been a lot worse if I was still over there and not playing for England. Over here in Japan I have to actively search for news on what is going on back home and what people are saying, so I am just following them as a fan for now."
And as a fan, Haskell is delighted the team has won its opening two games in this year's Six Nations.
"It's a new team so things are going to be difficult," he said. "Winning ugly obviously isn't great but what it does is buy you more time and inspires you with a new confidence."
Haskell, who will re-join London Wasps, once his stint with the Highlanders is over, said England will need all that confidence when they take on Wales at the weekend.
"It's not like we are playing New Zealand or South Africa. Wales have a little fallibility about them even though they are a very good side and playing very well.
"But it's going to be a massive game. If you can stop the Welsh midfield and get [Sam] Warburton out of the breakdown, I think England can beat Wales."
One of the players that will take on Warburton head-to-head is Chris Robshaw and Haskell believes England made the right choice in handing the captain's armband to the Harlequins flanker.
"I've grown up playing with Chris Robshaw, I think he is a good player and fair play to him. He's captaining his country and has led them to two wins. What more do you want."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
In the wake of another perfect November series, Monday Maul talks to NZRU CEO Steve Tew about the constant demand for perfection
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton