Haskell left confused but not bruised by Italy tactics

James Haskell would normally wake up in pain after an international rugby match, his body having absorbed numerous collisions that require extensive recovery work with the team’s medical staff. However, thanks to Italy’s controversial tactics in England’s 36-15 win that keeps them on top of the RBS Six Nations table, the Wasps flanker is today relishing the chance to release pent up frustration and unused energy in the gym.

With Italy having refused to turn tackle situations into body punishing rucks by standing off, Haskell and his team mates were left struggling to hit their stride and while six tries earned a first ever bonus point, head coach Eddie Jones insisted the sport had been seriously damaged – if not his players.

As a result, England head to Oxford for a week’s training in the build up to the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland on March 11 without any injury problems, but plenty to think about. Haskell, whose career has seen him play in France, Japan and New Zealand, admitted the Italy game had been the most unusual he had ever experienced.

He said: “It didn’t feel like a normal test and I think I only cleared out three people at rucks in the match and so physically I don’t feel the same and it was just a bizarre afternoon – one that I will chalk down as a win and move on. It was strange, but fair play to Italy we knew they would do something with physicality and something clever. It was probably a bit of a boring game (to watch)and a weird one to play in. It probably sent people scurrying to the law book to see what is a ruck.”

For England, the focus is now on that Scotland game and victory at Twickenham would allow them to equal New Zealand’s world record of 18 successive wins. While Scotland haven’t won at the home of English rugby since 1983, their victories over Wales and Ireland means they can clinch the Triple Crown by ruining the Auld Enemy’s party in two weeks’ time.

It is this clear and present danger that will be central to the Oxford training week, although Haskell insists talk of records is not part of their mind set and he expects a surprise from the Scots, although he dismisses the idea they will follow Italy’s lead . “Scotland are playing some very good rugby, being very creative and playing with a smile on their faces. They are enjoying what they are doing and are very well coached. It is going to be a physical battle and we know that and they will throw some things at us that we haven’t seen before. It will be about us getting those little adjustments , preparing for the unknown and getting another win.

“We have two weeks to prepare and we are looking forward to that challenge and it is going to be a big occasion. We will go away, put in the work and come back firing. We don’t talk about the world record and I didn’t know we had beaten the England record because it’s not what is important. Records are great for media and fans but not so great for players.

“Everyone wants to come to Twickenham and put their best performance in and Italy did that and we expect the same in two weeks’ time. It is called a test match for a reason and we have been tested and you always want to learn . We will go away and tactically talk through a lot of things and work on how we can react a lot quicker but we got the win and so let’s not get too down on ourselves.”

Scotland are brimming with confidence after their impressive win over Wales and head coach Jones is eager to throw some of the pressure back onto the Scots who have lost flanker John Hardie to a knee injury, the third player ruled out of the championship. Having fired off both barrels at the Italian tactics, Jones is happy to turn his attention to Scotland while emphasising just how successful his team has been as defending champions.

“ If you said where we wanted to be at the end of three rounds, we’re exactly there:” said Jones. “ We’re undefeated, we have got a bonus point. We’re in a perfect position to go on and win the Six Nations.

“We’re looking forward to Scotland coming down. They’re talking big already, they’re on a roll, they’re confident, but they’ve got to carry round the expectations now for the whole Scotland nation for the next two weeks before they come down and play us. They’ve got to handle that, which is going to be interesting for them.”

as seen in Evening Standard