Unless results take an unexpected turn, James Haskell will play his last home game for Wasps on Sunday 29th April, his 198th game for the club he first represented as a teenager back in 2002. All being well there will be three more games to follow, with his final game being at Twickenham, which would be a fitting finale in every sense.
Like many fans, I have mixed views about his impending departure. With Brad Shields coming in, the remarkable consistency of Thomas Young, and the emergence of Jack Willis, I can understand why Wasps have made the decision not to offer a new contract to someone I would imagine would be one of the club’s highest earners. However, if there is something Haskell has proven throughout his career, particularly with England, he is very good at responding to disappointment and proving people wrong. You do not get approaching eighty caps for your country if you don’t know your way around a rugby pitch, and his experience may well be missed if Wasps are to continue to progress.
From a personal perspective, I think there is an awful lot to admire about Haskell, and the career he has had. I think he has had to work, and continue to work, incredibly hard to continue to play at the highest level. If you look at the clubs he has represented aside from Wasps, he made some really bold decisions to go on a rugby journey to help his development as a player. When you watch him play, he seems to have a very clear awareness of where his strengths are, and appears to have an appetite to continually improve. When George Smith was with us, I read with interest interviews with Haskell about how much he learnt from him, and how he continually pestered him for hints and tips about how to get better at the breakdown. Some players would have felt threatened when a world class player like Smith arrives in your position, but Haskell seemed to use it as an opportunity to learn and progress, rather than sulk and regress. Other players would have responded differently.
I also feel he deserves praise for his captaincy during the relocation from Adams Park to the Ricoh Arena. Without question, this was one of the biggest decisions the club has ever had to make, and he appeared to lead the way in terms of embracing the move and getting the players on board with it. Perhaps as captain he did not have a choice, but during such a critical and controversial period for Wasps, he seemed to set an example on and off the pitch.
As a player, he should be incredibly proud of his Wasps career.When he returned for his second spell for Wasps, I thought his form particularly during 2013/14 seasons was exceptional, and the back row partnership he enjoyed with Ashley Johnson and Nathan Hughes was a joy to watch. Wasps last major piece of silverware was the Premiership play off win in 2008, where Haskell was simply outstanding in both the semi final and final, and very influential in the winning outcome. It would be fantastic if ten years on he could have the same influence again if Wasps make the play offs, which they now are well placed to do.
I am a relative newcomer to some aspects of social media, whereas Haskell appears very busy in this area, and clearly enjoys a number of interests away from the rugby pitch. I have read some criticism of this, but good luck to him in my view. It would be a very boring world if we all acted the same, and if it helps him unwind away from the game, why does it matter? Rugby is a short career, and surely players are entitled to pursue opportunities away from the field if it does not impact negatively on their performances on it?
I hope Wasps organise a fitting tribute for a genuine club stalwart for the Northampton match. It will be an occasion tinged with some sadness, with Danny Cipriani and Guy Thompson amongst others also moving on, but I feel it is Haskell who deserves the biggest send off. Supporters enjoy discussing team selection, well think about the best fifteen Haskell could name for players he has shared a Wasps changing room with? It would take some beating, and demonstrates the different eras he has been successful in.
At the time of writing, his next destination is unknown. Wherever it is, like a lot of Wasps fans I will be there to enjoy his last game for Wasps at Ricoh, and will give him the standing ovation he deserves.
Thank you James Haskell, and all the best for the future.