- James Haskell returns after seven-game absence
- I know it’s going to be a massive physical challenge – Haskell
James Haskell has pinpointed slowing down South Africa at the breakdown as a key target for England on Saturday as he makes his Test rugby return after a seven-game international hiatus.
Despite their stirring comeback in the second Test in Johannesburg, England ultimately succumbed to the three tries conceded in the opening quarter, as wave after wave of Springbok runners won the one-on-one collisions and made telling gain line advances.
Central to it was their speed of release at the tackle area and that, coupled with the altitude, made it difficult to stem the flow, according to the 27-year-old.
Photo: Getty Images
Discussing what in New Zealand they call the ‘washing machine’ effect, Haskell, who starts at No.7, said: “The first 20 minutes in Durban Chris Robshaw was fantastic over the ball and he enabled us to slow them down and get those hits in.
“At altitude in Johannesburg, if you don’t get things right, you end up being what they call in New Zealand a ‘washing machine.’
“You’re never able to get your breath back, you’re never allowed to think clearly and you end up scrambling all the time and if you end up doing that against South Africa you’re always going to be losing yards.
“There’s always a certain amount of predictability with South African teams but the key point is that you’ve always got to be 100 per cent on your game to stop it. You know where they’re coming but it doesn’t really matter as they carry with such venom and intensity.”
England captain Robshaw, who misses the final Test with a broken bone in his thumb, was immense on the floor in the opening two matches against the Springboks, pilfering four turnovers in each game.
Photo: Getty Images
Haskell is up against a debutant openside, with Blue Bulls No.7 Jacques Potgeiter replacing the explosive but now injured Willem Alberts for the final Test in the series.
For soon to be London Wasps returnee Haskell, who is familiar with Potgeiter’s style from playing for Otago Highlanders in the Super 15, there will no let-up in physical intensity from this “like-for-like” replacement.
“I don’t know if it’s he debut season in Super 15 but he’s been fantastic for the Bulls,” said the former Stade Francais man. “He’s obviously a bit of a talisman for them in terms of his ball carrying ability so it’s almost a bit of a like-for-like replacement.
“Willem Alberts was playing extremely well but Jacques will do what he does for the Bulls – he’s very disruptive, he carries the ball very hard and he loves the contact. So from a tactical, playing point of view, I know it’s going to be a massive physical challenge.”
After counting himself out of the opening five games of Stuart Lancaster’s reign with his playing commitments in the southern hemisphere – first with the Ricoh Black Rams and then Highlanders – Haskell is understandably delighted to get the chance to play a Test so soon.
Discussing his initial ambition to just fit into the squad culture on and off the field, he added: “I didn’t really have any expectations coming into this tour, all I wanted to do was make sure I made a good impression and that I fitted into the mentality that Stuart wanted.
“I was quite content playing in the midweek warriors, enjoying myself and now sooner rather than later, through injury, I’ve had the opportunity to play in a Test, and I’m very excited about that.”