EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: James Haskell backs England for World Cup glory

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’m always confident, especially with Eddie in charge’: James Haskell backs England for World Cup glory, hits out at Jones’ haters – and insists rugby can do more on mental health

  • James Haskell has admitted he is ‘confident’ about England’s World Cup chances
  • The former England forward blasted those who criticise head coach Eddie Jones
  • Haskell has also insisted rugby must do more to combat mental health issues
  • The 37-year-old revealed his thoughts in an exclusive interview with Sportsmail

James Haskell has insisted he is ‘confident’ about England’s chances at the 2023 World Cup and backed boss Eddie Jones to deliver.

Head coach Jones had been heavily criticised after finishing a distant third in this year’s Six Nations, before an experimental side was heavily beaten, 52-21, by the touring Barbarians. 

But Haskell, speaking exclusively to Sportsmail as part of the Under the Surface podcast on mental health, insisted the Australian is the right man for the job – before revealing his thoughts on how the sport can battle mental health issues better.

James Haskell (L) has admitted he’s confident about England’s chances at the 2023 World Cup

The ex-England forward insisted under-fire head coach Eddie Jones is the right man for the job

Haskell spoke exclusively to Sportsmail as part of the Under the Surface podcast on mental health, with menswear brand Original Penguin and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)

Speaking after England’s 2-1 series win against the Wallabies in July, he said: ‘It was brilliant. I always had complete faith in Eddie Jones. So did the players. This for me is hopefully a line in the sand now where some of the crazier members of the rugby fan fraternity give him a break. He’s the best man for the job.

‘Are we the finished article? No. Is it still a journey of how the team is progressing with the new players? Yes. Is it the same as happened in 2018 (an improvement before 2019 World Cup)? Of course. Because Eddie doesn’t play the media game or the fan game, when things don’t go well, everyone’s ready to knife him.

‘I’m always confident about what England does at a World Cup, especially when you’ve got Eddie in charge. Going into the 2019 World Cup, would you have said we’d have played the way we did, almost beat Australia, New Zealand, and then South Africa in the final? 

‘There was a lot of criticism saying 2018 was pretty poor, didn’t do very well in the Six Nations, everyone was saying “is he the right man for the job?” and he turned it round. So you’ve always got to back a man who specialises in taking a team to a World Cup.’

Former Wasps back-row forward Haskell, who retired in 2019 with 77 caps, however admitted Ireland and ‘utterly incredible’ France are the two favourites for the tournament, before revealing his pick for the breakthrough youngster in July.

The 37-year-old hailed England’s comeback 2-1 series win against the Wallabies in July as evidence the side are progressing under Australian Jones ahead of next year’s tournament 

Haskell also labelled Leicester scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet as a breakout star from the tour

He added: ‘(Leicester scrum-half) Jack van Poortvliet definitely played really, really well, he definitely made a massive stride into the mix. Henry Arundell, that cameo was brilliant, obviously he’s going to need some more blooding and experience but he looks like an incredible player. 

‘Marcus Smith, tested in a different location, showed how good he can be so I think we’re in a really good place. Van Poortvliet was probably the standout of those young guys and he will hopefully be a permanent fixture moving forward.’

And the 37-year-old, who welcomed daughter Bodhi into the world with wife Chloe Madeley in August, went on to discuss his personal struggles with mental health in the latter parts of his career and soon after retiring, before outlining a blueprint for how the sport can improve dealing with such issues.

He continued: ‘I’ve always talked about mental health. With my demeanour, you might not think I’d be vocal about it, but I always have been. I’ve seen a psychologist since I was 17. I know how important it is, I see looking after your mind being just as important as looking after your body. 

‘A lot of men out there are struggling and they think it’s tougher not to speak up – but it’s much tougher to open up, to go and see people who can help you and get the tools to navigate life, because life is hard enough as it is without trying to bury and manage your own problems.


The former Wasps star, who has been frank about his own mental health struggles during and after his career, outlined his blueprint for how the sport can improve dealing with such issues


A post shared by James Haskell (@jameshaskell)

(How can the sport improve?) ‘It just has to be the cultural responsibility. When mental health is seen as normal as buying a new pair of shoes to help with performance or taking a supplement to make you better, then we’re in a good place. At the moment it’s not. 

‘You’ve got coaches who’ve never done it and never talked about it, they get psychologists into the group but because they don’t believe in it themselves, there’s always a peripheral element (to their role). You can have much more success if you address the mental health of the team by really delving into that.

‘And then it’s down to the lads. Once it becomes normal to talk about, that’s how it will move on. That for me as well is about addressing young players and making them understand.’

Haskell, who admitted Jones will likely leave his role after next year’s competition, backed Crusaders coach Scott Robertson or Leicester boss Steve Borthwick to replace him – and claimed the pair working together would be a ‘hell of a combo’.

He concluded: ‘The Under the Surface podcast with Penguin and CALM was wicked because it’s an opportunity to tell stories and bond with good people and share like-minded stuff.’

James Haskell was speaking to Sportsmail in partnership with the Under the Surface podcast, with menswear brand Original Penguin x CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). 

To watch the second episode of series two, head to www.originalpenguin.co.uk/pages/calm-underthesurface.

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