‘I’ve tried my best but I wasn’t meant to be a Lion,’ says James Haskell

Gerard Meagher
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">James Haskell impressed for England in the Six Nations but has not made the Lions squad.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images</span>
James Haskell impressed for England in the Six Nations but has not made the Lions squad. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

James Haskell has delivered a brutally honest assessment of his omission from the British & Irish Lions squad, conceding that a failure to wear the fabled red jersey means he cannot be considered a great of the game but realigning his sights towards appearing at a third World Cup with England in 2019.

Despite Joe Launchbury’s high-profile snub from the Lions, the Wasps director of rugby, Dai Young, believes Haskell was his most unlucky player to miss out, having resurrected his England career under Eddie Jones during last year’s Six Nations and the 3-0 series victory in Australia.

A complicated toe injury and an untimely concussion meant Haskell came into this year’s Six Nations with less than an hour’s game time since that Wallabies whitewash however and for all his endeavour, he was unable to hit his heights of 2016. In his eyes, England’s defeat by Ireland in March played a significant part in his snub but Haskell has accepted his fate and refused to use his injury as an excuse.

“The Lions is the pinnacle of every rugby player’s career. It’s the difference between being a good player and a great player and I obviously wasn’t good enough to do it. That’s the fact,” said Haskell. “It’s something that you want to do but a lot of people, like myself, are always out of arm’s reach. It was not to be really, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve tried my best but I wasn’t meant to be a Lion.

“I thought I played well in the Six Nations and put myself out there. Could I have done any more? Not really. I just wasn’t good enough in [the coaches’] eyes. There are obviously personal preferences and I wasn’t the man to take it on. Excuses might give you comfort at night but it’s down to facts. I was disappointed, went home, spoke to my missus, it was like ‘oh, that’s shit’, and then I went away and thought about it, but I’m done with it now.

“Ireland v England had a massive role to play in it; Peter O’Mahony played his way in. Ross Moriarty played his way in during Wales v England. It’s about peaking at the right time and seizing your opportunity. I obviously failed to do that.”

Like Launchbury, Haskell will instead tour Argentina this summer and considering the number of times his critics have written off his England career, he will take great pride in adding to his 75 caps. Last year Haskell claimed that Jones “reminds me every day that I’m clinging on by my fingertips” and judging by the 32-year-old’s performances, it worked.

Fitness permitting, Haskell remains England’s first-choice openside flanker but Jones has picked a squad for Argentina with an eye on the future. Among the 15 uncapped players are Sam Underhill and the teenage twins Ben and Tom Curry, all of whom will compete for the No7 jersey.

“We want to pick up from a loss with a squad of young players,” added Haskell. “I’m sure there’ll be a lot of ‘hello, I’m James Haskell, my favourite colour’s red’ to get to know each other. It’s a new role for me and I’ve got some competition.

“Sam Underhill is now in the mix, everyone has been talking about him for a while, there’s the Curry brothers, these guys are coming and you have to be refreshed and raise yourself. Long term, I’d love to go to another World Cup. That would be the dream. I’ve had two World Cups [in 2011 and 2015] and they weren’t the best, let’s be honest.

“It’s going to be a full-strength Argentina side in Argentina, where we’re not the most popular. It will be a huge test of character out there. Reputations are on the line.”

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