England flanker James Haskell has announced that he plans to retire from professional rugby come the end of the season.
The 34-year-old has had an injury-prone season with Northampton Saints and has been struggling with ankle and toe problems which has caused a restriction on his game time.
Haskell has thanked everyone involved in his career and is extremely grateful for the chance to play rugby at the highest level.
“I have loved every minute of my career in rugby and feel very privileged to have played with and against some exceptional players. There are so many people to thank, but in particular I would like to express my appreciation for all the coaches, trainers and physios who I have worked with throughout my career – from Maidenhead minis all the way up to England and the British & Irish Lions, I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude,” he said.
He also thanked the fans and his friends for supporting him through his glittering career.
“I also want to thank all my team mates over the years for putting up with me and giving me an adventure that allowed me to laugh every single day. My thanks go out to the supporters here at Northampton Saints too who have welcomed me with open arms; I wish I’d been able to offer more on the field this season. This next chapter was supposed to go a very different way, however that is the nature of professional sport. I’ve never spent so much time injured in my entire career, but I’m doing everything I can to help the squad here until my contract ends,” he added.
Having played a starring role in a Wasps team, Haskell moved to the Saints and even though he has suffered misfortunes during his time there, he admitted that retiring was a really tough decision.
“Retiring is obviously a really difficult decision for me to make; professional rugby has been the centre of my life for such a long time now and while it’s weird to imagine living without it, I look to the future with huge excitement. I look back at my career and have been very lucky to have done most things there are to do in rugby. Sadly, I will never know what it’s like to win a World Cup or represent the Barbarians. Finally, I would not have achieved what I have in this sport without the continued support of my amazing wife, my family, and my friends. To them all, I am incredibly grateful,” he finished.
The flanker has also had spells across the globe at Stade Francais, Ricoh Black Rams and he Highlanders and has over 200 club appearances.
Along with an incredible club career, Haskell has 77 caps for England and has won three Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, as well as appearing at two World Cups and playing for the British & Irish Lions.
England head coach Eddie Jones has paid tribute to flanker and claimed that Haskell always made him smile.
“When I look back at my time coaching James, it will always bring a smile to my face. It was a privilege to coach him, but also great fun. He’s what I’d describe as a ‘glue’ player – someone who always tries to bring a squad together,” he said.
He also noted that Haskell will be missed from the game and applauded his contribution in every game he played.
“His tour to Australia in 2016 sticks in my mind. He was absolutely outstanding on that tour, amazingly physical, uncompromising and just totally dominant. Despite injuries preventing him from achieving his goals this season, he should be remembered for a great career and as someone who never gave less than 100 per cent for club and country. Not only a superb player, but also one of the game’s great characters; rugby will be poorer without the ‘old fella’,” he added.
Haskell’s time throughout the game was filled with highlights and is still in with a chance of being named in the Red Rose’s World Cup squad later this year. However, Jones’ comments about him being missed from rugby will ring true with many in the sports community.
World Rugby looking at innovations to ‘reimagine’ rugby
World rugby officials have taken the first steps towards ‘reimagining’ rugby.
Last week, administrators, coaches and officials from all the leading nations formulated a series of proposals that once assessed, could be put into action without needing to change laws.
Ideas for consideration include a ‘shot clock’ timer on scrums, lineouts and goal-kicks, all aimed at speeding up the game before next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Fans are also likely to have better in-stadium experiences in future with improved ground access to the interactions between referees and television match officials.
Urgency in improving game quality has been a quick outcome from concerns seen in the November internationals, especially the low amount of time the ball was in play and the number of stoppages in games.
Water carriers are likely to have less time on the field in future.
A countdown shot clock, available for all to see on big screens at grounds, could see greater urgency from set-pieces and goal-kickers having to complete their shots at goal within time limits.
Limits of 60 seconds for a penalty and 90 seconds for conversions, already in law, were rarely enforced as many kickers regularly took longer.
France already operates a clock on goal-kicks in its Top 14 competition.
Referrals to TMOs would faster, while spectators would receive better explanations about why incidents were under review.
The suggestions will be considered over the next few weeks.
A fertile breeding ground for international players
One of the significant features to come out of the Springboks’ Castle Lager Outgoing Tour this month – and the November international series in general – was how it underlined the role played by the Vodacom United Rugby Championship in breeding players for successful roles in their national teams.
Indeed, while Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was initially criticised for ignoring home based players who’d made their names in the Vodacom URC, by the end of the calendar year that had changed, with several newcomers who either first captured the eye in the 16-team cross-hemisphere competition or grew their game there, making an indelible mark.
Understandably, the 2021/22 finalists, the eventual champions DHL Stormers and the Vodacom Bulls, led the way when it came to providing breakout opportunities for players within their system.
Kurt-Lee Arendse, who scored the thrilling try that had Twickenham aghast and even England supporters marvelling at his pace and skill, was one such player.
Arendse made his debut for the Boks in the second Test against Wales in Bloemfontein in July, but it was after France-based Cheslin Kolbe was injured in the third and deciding game against the Welsh that Arendse got his chance to show that he could transfer his sublime form for the Bulls in the Vodacom URC onto the international stage.
He turned in a stellar performance in his first outing against the All Blacks in Nelspruit in August, with his pace and his mastery in the air being a constant thorn to the New Zealanders and he capped it with the opening try of the game.
Unfortunately, Arendse blotted his copybook when red carded following an unfortunate clash with an airborne Beauden Barrett and the injury sustained in that incident, plus the subsequent suspension, prevented him from playing for much of the rest of the Boks’ Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign.
He did return though for the final game against Argentina in Durban as a replacement and in no time at all after he came on, Arendse scored one of his trademark tries, running it in from near the Pumas 10 metre line, off the last move of the game.
The Boks didn’t hit target in that game, and ended second in the Rugby Championship, but Arendse’s star shone, as it did again on the end of season tour.
Arendse was a big contributor to the great Bok counter-attacking that appeared to stun the French in Marseille, his opening try and then the follow up to complete the brace was a talking point when Italy were laid to the sword in Genoa, and then came the Twickenham highlight to the tour.
Arendse is being talked about as a special player, and it was in the Vodacom URC that he first got experience of playing against overseas players and overseas conditions.
Ditto his young Vodacom Bulls team-mate Canan Moodie, who made his Test debut at the age of just 19 as Arendse’s replacement during the international season. His excellent try, plucking a kick out of the air and then running 30 metres to score, was the turning point in the Boks’ favour against the Wallabies in Sydney and will be part of any end of year highlights package.
Moodie started the 2022 calendar year playing Currie Cup rugby for the Bulls, and made a big statement in his debut against DHL Western Province before quickly being elevated into the Vodacom URC team, where his potential was picked up by the national coaches.
Elrigh Louw was another Bulls player who has used the Vodacom URC as a platform to bid for national honours, and he played in the competition in its previous guise as the PRO14 when he was at the Southern Kings.
That was where Louw was first spotted by South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, probably on the recommendation of the then Kings DOR Robbie Kempson.
Louw played for the SA ‘A’ team in November, but in his absence the 2021/22 Vodacom URC Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year, Evan Roos, made full use of his opportunity.
With only the one cap earned in the second Test against Wales to his credit before the tour, Roos played off the bench in the destruction of Italy before transferring his Vodacom URC form to the international stage in London a week later. In that game, fellow DHL Stormers player Marvin Orie also showed he belongs at international level.
Although Orie had played for the Boks before, and was first capped while still at the Emirates Lions, this was his breakout year at international and he confirmed it at Twickenham, where no doubt his experience of being part of the winning Stormers effort in the Vodacom URC final helped his confidence.
His Stormers teammate Salmaan Moerat would have added more Bok appearances in 2022 were he not playing behind arguably the world’s finest lock, Eben Etzebeth, who will grace the Vodacom URC in the colours of the Cell C Sharks going forward.
Deon Fourie and Manie Libbok were two other DHL Stormers players who joined Roos and Moerat in making their Bok debuts this year, with Libbok looking the part as a replacement in Genoa.
Libbok is one of the Vodacom URC’s biggest success stories – not long ago he was struggling to establish himself in the starting teams of the Bulls and Sharks, but thanks to the platform given to him by the Stormers, he has grown into a genuine international quality player.
Which of course is exactly what Damian Willemse is now. The utility back had also played for the Boks before this year, and was with them as a replacement at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.
But it was off the back of his Vodacom URC form, and the experience of being in the winning team, that Willemse took the bit properly between his teeth in the international season and made the graduation from fringe international player to the world class player he ended the year as.
And then there is Junior Springbok captain Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who we first saw when he played as a replacement in last season’s quarter-final, was selected to tour but didn’t play.
With Italy beating Australia for the first time, and Ireland going through the autumn internationals unbeaten, plus Scotland pushing New Zealand all the way before thumping Argentina and being unlucky not to beat the Wallabies at the start of this phase, it could be argued that the success of the Vodacom URC, and the impetus given to the competition by South African participation, was writ large.
Spencer looking to bring innovation to Sky Super Rugby Aupiki
Former All Blacks and Blues first five-eighths Carlos Spencer hopes to pass on the sort of rugby that marked his career as a backs coach for the Blues women’s side in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki in 2023.
The 99-time Blues’ pivot played 44 Tests for the All Blacks and 89 games for Auckland during his career spanning the turn of the century. He also played for Northampton and Gloucester in the English Premiership.
Since building his coaching record after completing his rugby-playing career in South Africa in Gauteng, he has coached in the Republic, the United States and the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Now he has taken the chance to join head coach Willie Walker and fellow assistant coach Linda Itunu with the Blues.
Spencer, 47, said: “When I was playing, I always liked to bring a bit of innovation and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking to the table. Now, as a coach, I want to encourage and help grow those same traits in our Blues wahine.”
Like most of New Zealand, he was caught up in the Black Ferns’ World Cup success, and he anticipates there will be a follow-on effect in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki.
“You’ve seen the rise of women’s rugby and the way the public got right in behind the Black Ferns.
“We’re at an exciting juncture for the sport, and I’m looking forward to getting involved and doing what I can to help grow and support women’s rugby.”
“I’ve known Willie [Walker] for a while. We’ve thrown the touch ball around and have a good relationship. He’s done some fantastic work with the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup, and I’m looking forward to exchanging ideas and getting the backline humming.
“I don’t know Linda, but have seen her exploits on the field for many years with the Black Ferns – she was an enforcer on the field,”
Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said having Spencer on board with the Blues organisation was special, and was an example of harnessing the resources available within the franchise’s region.
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