James Haskell offers two surprise names when discussing fittest teammates
"I haven't ever seen a fitter guy."
Two of the fittest players ever to share a pitch with James Haskell - a Welsh outhalf and an English prop that used to enjoy the post-match sessions. Not exactly what we were expecting but a big compliment, all the same.
The latest episode of JOE UK's House of Rugby dealt with, among many things, post-match celebrations. Wales would have enjoyed themselves after beating England 21-13 in their Guinness Six Nations encounter in Cardiff last weekend.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has his side firmly on-course for this year's Grand Slam and Haskell, who played under the Kiwi at Wasps, recalled how he would encourage his squad soaking in the good times when they came. "His thing was, if you train hard, you play hard off the field but f I give you any rope, don't it it wrong. And you have to turn up and front up."
Gatland, then, would have approved of the go-hard attitude from prop Tim Payne. Haskell recalled:
"Gatland loved you getting on the smash, and then turning up and doing a session and fronting up; not giving up. Tim Payne was a master of that.
"Payner, he said he's got extra red blood cells so he could essentially get on the steam and then turn up and kill everyone on the fitness test. He was unbelievably fit, Tim Payne. An incredible swimmer, really, really fit.
"[He would go out after a match] and then he would front up on the Monday or Tuesday and smoke everyone, be the most professional, kill it in the [next] game and I was just like... in awe of the man!"
The other player that has won the respect of Haskell is his Northampton Saints teammate Dan Biggar.
The Saints and Wales outhalf came off the bench against England and helped his country to a crucial win with some superb tactical plays.
"When Bigs first came into Saints - he obviously started the same time as me. I haven't ever seen a fitter guy, really, in terms of his fitness and his endurance.
"I don't know what I expected. I met him on the Lions Tour [in 2017] and if you met him he'd tell you he thought he'd hate me, but he only mildly hated me!
"he's an incredible team guy and he turns up for everything. He's always out with the academy lads and he's not big-time at all. And his fitness is just insane. He just keep running and running and running and running. He's a real professional, but not such much that he's blinkered and he doesn't have any chat or life."
Going back to the topic of big nights' out, win, lose or draw, former England captain Mike Tindall told a fascinating tale about John Mitchell and how he often responded to his Sale Sharks side going through a tough time.
The former All Blacks coach, who is now assistant to Eddie Jones in the England sit-up, would apparently lock his Sharks squad in a dressing room with ample supply of beer and tell them they were not leaving until every last drop was consumed:
That's one way of doing it. One can't imagine Joe Schmidt, Mitchell's fellow Kiwi, replicating this approach.