There’s not many players that can claim to have sampled professional rugby in England, New Zealand, France and Japan, but retiring Northampton and England back-row James Haskell did just that.
The 34-year-old announced his retirement from the sport on Tuesday, and as such, we’ve taken a look back at some of his memorable moments…
Australia tour 2016 ‘Man of Series’
Perhaps more than any period in his career, Haskell’s performances on England’s 3-0 whitewash tour to Australia in 2016 was him at his best.
Ahead of the first Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, the last time the two nations had faced each other was at Twickenham in the pool stages of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, when the Wallabies unceremoniously dumped the hosts out in a display of immense dominance.
Haskell was not involved that day, but fast forward to the summer of 2016 and Australia raced into a 10-0 lead with England looking off the pace again.
Thereafter, however, Haskell proceeded to take the Test by storm. He made 18 tackles, twice as much as any other player on the park from either side, forced three turnovers, made two clean breaks – the second of which led to a Marland Yarde try – and showed huge physical pedigree throughout – his monstrous hit on David Pocock setting the tone.
By the end of it, he had the man of the match award in his hand and a 39-28 victory to toast.
The second Test in Melbourne proved a tighter affair, with England having to rely on their steely defence. Haskell once again made more tackles than anybody, putting in 23 this time, while also forcing two turnovers.
Again, it was a hugely impressive 71-minute performance until Haskell suffered a serious toe injury which would end his tour and nearly his career prematurely.
His impact had been keenly felt, though, and his fellow players named him Man of the Series. Not bad for a man Eddie Jones had publicly admitted was just a short-term solution in the seven shirt months previously.
Wasps’ 2007 Heineken Cup
Aside from that phenomenal summer tour with England, high up on the highlights list of Haskell’s career will be Wasps’ European triumph when he was just 22.
The previous time Wasps had made the European Cup final in 2004, Haskell had been in the crowd hoping to experience a similar occasion some day.
Fast forward three years and the back-row was sat on the bench for a European Cup final against Leicester at Twickenham behind a seriously strong Wasps loose forward trio of Joe Worsley, Tom Rees and skipper Lawrence Dallaglio.
Introduced as a 50th-minute sub for club talisman Dallaglio, Haskell was instrumental in some late defence to keep out the Tigers from close range, before then making a 60-metre break up the pitch, ultimately leading to an Alex King penalty which rubber-stamped victory.
It was the pinnacle of the club game experienced in the first few years of Haskell’s budding career. A day and a medal to cherish for sure.
England Grand Slam 2016
At Test level, behind clinching the Rugby World Cup, arguably the most difficult feat to accomplish is a Six Nations Grand Slam – something else Haskell can point to as having achieved.
Brought back into the England set-up in Jones’ first full year and deployed as an auxiliary openside flanker, Haskell started all five games of the 2016 Championship as England beat all before them.
The flanker played the full 80 minutes in perhaps England’s two most difficult fixtures that year: a 15-9 success over Scotland at Murrayfield in Round 1, and a 31-21 win over France in Paris in Round 5.
He also featured until the final quarters of home victories over Ireland and Wales, and away to Italy. He finished the tournament in the top six players for tackles made (61) and top six for turnovers won (six).
As well as that maiden Grand Slam success, Haskell also finished his career with two further Six Nations triumphs: 2011 and 2017.
Premiership Crown 2008
To complete his silverware haul, Haskell also has a Premiership winner’s medal to treasure.
A season on from Wasps’ second European gong, Haskell was promoted from bench to the starting team as he lined out alongside the same opponents Leicester with Rees and Dallaglio.
Playing the full 80 minutes, Wasps stormed into a first-half 23-3 lead, before holding off a second-half Tigers comeback to win 26-16.
Again, Haskell impressed and at 23, his potential as a future England regular had been marked.
Successful trips abroad
Unlike the majority of professional English rugby players past and present, Haskell left these shores to experience other rugby cultures – three, in fact.
His first exit came as a result of falling out of the England pecking order and missing the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour, leaving Wasps after seven years for Stade Francais in the Top 14.
His performances across the Channel over two years saw him break back into the England team, while at club level Stade lost the 2011 Challenge Cup final by a single point. Indeed, it was only financial difficulties at the French club which brought about Haskell’s exit.
Having made it into the England squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Haskell made the move to Japan after the tournament to play with the Ricoh Black Rams before then moving on to sample Super Rugby with the Highlanders in 2012 – one of only five overseas players contracted in New Zealand at the time.
Thereafter, Haskell returned to Wasps, where he played for six more seasons – two as captain. Northampton Saints proved his last port of call during the 2018/19 campaign, as he attempted in vain to play his way into the England reckoning for the 2019 World Cup.
Some lighter moments
As well as huge physicality and noteworthy achievements on the pitch, Haskell has also become synonymous with light and humorous moments on and off it too.
Two particularly stand out and encapsulate the comedy of the man…
“I’m not your coach”
During the 2017 Six Nations, England welcomed Italy to Twickenham in Round 3 of the Championship, intent on ‘smashing them’, as head coach Jones in-eloquently chimed the week before.
Yet, Italy did far more than lie down and die at the home of English rugby, with Red Rose players and management alike bamboozled by the Azzurri’s ploy to invalidate conventional offside lines by neglecting to form a ruck.
Italy went in with a shock 10-5 half-time lead as England struggled to come to terms with Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter’s cute tactics.
It prompted Haskell and skipper Dylan Hartley to confront referee Romain Poite seeking clarification and help in a memorable encounter, comically asking: ‘What do we need to do to make it a ruck?”, to which the French official replied: “I am a referee, not a coach.”
“Have a sing-song”
Back in November 2018, Haskell was on media duty with Sky Sports for England’s autumn Test with South Africa at Twickenham.
Following England’s controversial 12-11 win over the Boks, Haskell was pitchside for reaction alongside Will Greenwood. But, due to technical issues with his microphone and feedback in his ear, Haskell produced a post-match summation which sounded more suited to a pub than a national broadcaster – and it was utterly hilarious.