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16th Jan 2019

‘A lot of players enter by the front door and are carried out the back door’ – James Haskell

Patrick McCarry


James Haskell looked at Richie McCaw lift the World Cup trophy at Twickenham, in 2015, and retire after the final. He knows, though, that the All Blacks captain was the exception, rather than the rule.

Haskell, who has won three Six Nations titles with England, is 33 now and has been hampered by injuries over the past season and a half. He is nearing a comeback for Northampton Saints, who he signed for last summer, but has only made a couple of appearances for the Premiership outfit.

“McCaw got to finish how he wanted, by winning a World Cup final,” Haskell told House of Rugby. “That is the ultimate way to finish.

“A lot of people enter by the front door and are carried out the back door.”

Haskell spoke about some genuine trepidation he feels regarding retirement, and about what he will miss most, on his House of Rugby appearance with host Alex Payne, former England teammate Mike Tindall and Chloe Madeley, his wife.

“We’ve had some good conversations about retirement,” Haskell confirmed, “because I think you are, slash, were concerned about when I retire and what it is going to be like. It is something we’ve talked about.

“Chloe has been very matter of fact, like, ‘You do know it is going to end?’ Because I’ve always been fighting, these last couple of years, from injury or driving to London once a week to get physio, seeing nutritionists and doing extra training… waking up most days with pain in some part of my body and trying to do extra stuff to get back on the field to play.

“Speaking to Chloe, she says, ‘You’ve got to push and do whatever it is you’ve got to do’ – she’s been supportive – ‘but you do know it’s going to end and you’ve got to be prepared for that’. The fact that I’ve been injured and the two of us have books out and I’m doing House of Rugby, I feel more secure if anything was to happen. But I would like to stay playing. I’ve still got stuff to do.”

Although he won’t rule any career paths out, Haskell, who has previously played in New Zealand, France and Japan, says he would love to stay on at Northampton next season.

Chloe Madeley, who married Haskell in December, commented, “I do worry about James, when he does retire.

“There are so many things – A, the practical thing of getting up in the morning and having to go into training, and, B, the physiological and psychological aspect of training and having a goal at the end of every week to push for.

“Even when he’s injured, the goal will be that at the end of every month that he can do something new. You take that goal away, and that purpose and schedule… they’re a free agent and, of course, there’s that sense of being unsure, floatiness and that loss of intensity. There’s the hormonal stuff, too, and that adrenaline that comes when you are close to playing… you take that out of somebody’s make-up and, of course, they’re going to crash.”

Asked if he was afraid about waking up the morning after he retires, Haskell admitted, “I am.

“I am, and do you know what the biggest fear of it all is? That when it does stop, the world moves on so quickly and you want everyone to care and everyone to notice. They don’t and they don’t care.

“You get a few bits and pieces but then you are on, and I think that will be really interesting, when I don’t have teammates any more. I love being around [a team] and sharing the stories.”

Haskell, and many rugby fans, will be hoping that the end is not coming just yet.

Who knows, he could emulate another All Blacks legend, Brad Thorn, and play professional rugby on into his 40s.

Subscribe here to JOE’s House of Rugby:

Episode 14 sees Alex Payne joined by Mike Tindall, James Haskell and Chloe Madeley, who got married to James in late 2018, to discuss stag dos, wedding speeches, pre-match superstitions and life after rugby.

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