James Haskell, the 6ft 4 Flanker from Berkshire, and Wellington College old boy, has this season enjoyed success with the England team since his return from Dunedin in July, with one notable example being a resounding 38-21 victory over New Zealand in front of a home crowd at Twickenham.
Indeed, Haskell’s rugby stats are a glittering tribute to the achievements a player can hope to attain in one career, and something which many rugby players can only dream of emulating. Representing England at the Under 18, 19 and 21s, as well as playing for England 7s, Haskell then went on to win selection by Martin Johnson for the Elite Player Squad in 2008/9, an accolade many consider to be the pinnacle of English rugby.
Following his participation in every one of England’s Six Nations matches in 2009, Haskell then left the Wasps, to sign with Stade Francais, a move many considered to be financially driven, however, his time spent training abroad has undoubtedly been beneficial to his game. Indeed, he claims that his opportunity to play abroad was valuable in terms of development, saying, “it helped with my ability and I have matured as a player. There is much less pressure in France.”
His experience playing as part of the England squad based in Dunedin during the 2011 world cup was similarly remarkable. In discussion of his time in New Zealand, Haskell remembers in particular “the fantastic atmosphere in the stadium for the game against the Pumas.” Indeed, on reflection of his time playing in the Southern Hemisphere with a new team, Haskell says “You have to bond quickly and, when you win, as we did last weekend, there is no better feeling than the camaraderie with the guys. It was a pretty good way to start."
In terms of discussion of the opportunity for young players to train and play with a world class team, Haskell said: "I have come here purely for the rugby. I wanted to work with Jamie Joseph (the Highlander’s coach). Playing Super 15 as an England player is the pinnacle. It's like playing international matches every weekend.
Haskell’s story is illustrative of the enormous benefits a sporting season abroad can have upon a professional sportsperson’s career. By training and playing with another team, particularly in a different country, players learn different skills and tactics for matches, and often return with more confidence in their ability. Haskell's approach to spending a season training abroad is singularly positive, simply saying, “playing abroad made me a better player.”