James Haskell’s England career has been plunged into limbo after Wasps confirmed the back-row forward would leave the Aviva Premiership club this summer.
Haskell wants to extend his 75-cap Test career to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but must play for an English club to keep that dream with Eddie Jones’ side alive.
Wasps have signed Brad Shields from the Hurricanes for next term, and the English-qualified Kiwi flanker wants to force his way into Jones’ England squad.
Haskell came through the Wasps academy to make his senior debut in 2002, enjoying stints in France, Japan and New Zealand before heading back to his first club in 2013.
“Hask goes back a long way with Wasps,” said Wasps Rugby director Dai Young.
“Since starting in the academy as a teenager he has played around 200 games including a spell as club captain, which is a great achievement.
“I have no doubt whatsoever, given his character and loyalty to this club, that he will remain fully committed until the end of the current campaign.
“On behalf of everyone at Wasps I’d like to thank James for his efforts and wish him well for the future.”
Haskell broke through at a time when Wasps were able to contest European Rugby’s top club competitions, helping his side lift the Heineken Cup in 2004 and 2007.
Now though he must find a move to another English club in a bid to keep alive his dream of representing England at the 2019 World Cup.
“I have had a fantastic career at Wasps and would like to think I have played a part in the club’s success over the years,” said Haskell.
“I am looking forward to the next phase of my career; I wish all the players and officials at Wasps all the best for the future and will give my usual 100 per cent for the rest of the season.”
It may only be January but Northampton have pulled off what is sure to be one of the coups of the year with the signing of Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd.
The Saints sacked Jim Mallinder in December and Boyd will take the reins from interim coach Alan Gaffney when his Super Rugby obligations wrap up in early August.
It’s a major coup for Northampton but it’s another blow to New Zealand Rugby that is seeing the trickle of talent heading overseas turning into a flood.
The Kiwis have, by some margin, the best players and coaches on the planet but when you start to see current All Blacks such as Lima Sopoaga, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Victor Vito leave in their prime and rugby brains like Wayne Smith, Jamie Joseph, Joe Schmidt and now Boyd depart for colder climes – it has to have some effect.
It used to be the lure of just playing or coaching for the All Blacks would be enough to keep all New Zealanders happily ensconced in the land of the long white cloud waiting for the legendary day when they would get the call.
But not anymore. The lure of substantial northern coin is beginning to outweigh those national honours and the famous black jersey is being passed up for jerseys of a different hue.
The issue for the players and coaches is the All Blacks have a very stable line-up – on and off the field – and if there is one, two or even three in the line before you it’s hard to see yourself forcing your way through the door.
Take Kerr-Barlow. In any other country in the world, except possibly Ireland and England, he would be the first choice scrumhalf, but in New Zealand he is third behind the exceptional Aaron Smith who keeps the brilliant TJ Perenara on the bench. Kerr-Barlow may squeak a spot on the tour bus but that’s all.
Same for Boyd. In any other country his achievements, chief amongst them leading the Hurricanes to their maiden Super Rugby crown in 2016 (at the 21st attempt!), would be enough to see him handed the national coaching job – but not in NZ where Steve Hansen, 2015 RWC winner, is there for the foreseeable future, after which he’ll hand over to his 2IC Ian Foster.
Succession planning is well in place and Boyd, as superb as he has been with the Hurricanes, is not in that picture.
Boyd may be “passionate” about the Hurricanes but when he’s being offered triple the money and the opportunity to move on to an international coaching role in a few years – the decision is not too hard to swap the Cake Tin for Franklin Gardens.
It was interesting that NZRU General Manager Rugby Neil Sorensen was trotted out to give the move the official blessing rather than CEO Steve Tew.
If Tew isn’t concerned about a departure or opposing appointment he’ll happily mouth the platitudes – as he did when Raelene Castle was named as the new boss of Rugby Australia – but surely the master administrator must be starting to worry about the plane loads of rugby personnel heading out of Auckland.
Of course Tew will never let on that he is concerned. He’ll instead happily point to the NZ Under 20 side that won the World Championship in Georgia last year with a record 64-17 thrashing of England in the final. That side was captained by another future All Black, flanker Luke Jacobson, and coached by another (unknown) tactician Craig Philpott, who will be hoping for a Super Rugby gig in a few years.
So Tew indeed may still be pretty relaxed – and if asked about the most recent departures may well answer: “Let them go, there’s plenty more where they came from.” But at some point – the well has to run dry. The rest of the rugby world awaits that (mythical) day.
Despite heading into the Six Nations with a raft of injuries, Lewis Moody believes England’s impressive strength in depth makes Eddie Jones’ men favourites for this year’s title.
As many as 18 players could be unavailable through injury and suspension for the tournament opener against Italy in Rome next Saturday – with Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown the latest additions to the treatment room.
The absence of Robshaw is of particular concern to Jones, whose back-row numbers are already depleted with Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes, Tom Curry and James Haskell all unavailable through injury or suspension.
Saracens juggernaut Vunipola was ruled out for 12 weeks earlier this month after suffering a fractured arm in the 15-15 Champions Cup clash with Ospreys, in what was just his second appearance following a four month lay-off due to a knee injury.
England’s mounting injury woes leaves Jones with inexperienced quartet Gary Graham, Sam Simmonds, Sam Underhill and Zach Mercer – who have just six caps between them – as fit back-rowers, a week to go until their first game.
But rather than wallowing, 71-times capped Moody has been wowed by the new generation, particularly the talent coming through in the back-row, an area he of course knows a thing or two about.
“You see how well England are doing under Eddie Jones, it’s exciting,” said the 39-year-old former Leicester Tigers and Bath flanker.
“The consistency of their form, the young men they have coming through. Strength in depth, across the board.
“If you want to succeed in international sport you have to have competition for places and that’s what England have in abundance at the moment. Especially in the back row. He’s inherited a strong squad but has made it stronger and added his own twist.”
England have been hit so hard in the back-row positions that Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe has been training as a flanker. But after the likes of Underhill left a lasting impression on last summer’s tour to Argentina, Moody is looking past the initial list of walking wounded and focusing on the positives.
“If you’d still name an England side, even with all those injuries, you’d say that’s a ridiculously strong side,” said Moody, a HSBC ambassador who was in the UAE Friday attending the HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai being jointly run by Dubai Exiles and Dubai Hurricanes at The Sevens Stadium.
“They’ve created so much strength in depth by blooding youngsters on those summer tours. Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Zack Mercer, a raw talent who could be a really exciting prospect, and Underhill. All these guys, it’s exciting to see them coming through.
“The likes of Tom Wood and James Haskell are no longer in squads, it shows the good work coaches have been doing.
“Dylan Hartley, the captain, is being pressured by Jamie George, and even he’s being challenged by Tom Dunne, Luke Cowan-Dickie playing well week in, week out. It’s an exciting time for England.”
England are defending Six Nations champions and are chasing history by trying to become the first side to win three tournaments in a row – something that has never been done outright by one nation ever since the inaugural Home Nations tournament was held in 1883.
“You’ve got to believe they go in as favourites,” added a buoyant Moody.
“Ireland with their form and that of their clubs in the Champions Cup, will be buoyed. The Welsh will struggle a bit but you can never write them off.
“Everyone’s excited about the Scots but it was the same last year, they came in as the form side and England spanked them (61-21), but this year it’s Murrayfield and the partisan crowd will create a cauldron of an environment and making it a horrible place for England to play.”