James Haskell has today announced his intention to retire from professional rugby at the end of the 2018/19 season.
After a storied career that has taken him across the globe, the 34-year-old flanker has endured an injury-plagued campaign with Northampton Saints – struggling with recurring ankle and toe problems that have restricted his appearances in Black, Green and Gold.
But despite a frustrating season, Haskell leaves the game as one of England’s most successful players and his experience will be missed around Franklin’s Gardens.
“I have loved every minute of my career in rugby and feel very privileged to have played with and against some exceptional players,” said Haskell.
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This is a day that I thought was going to be a while off, and done in different circumstances, but that is the nature of professional sport. It’s with a really heavy heart I announce my retirement at the end of the season from professional rugby. The last 25 years have been one hell of a journey that started at Maidenhead Rugby Club, went on via Papplewick School, Wellington College, Wasps, Stade Francais, Ricoh Black Rams, The Highlanders, Wasps and finally Northampton Saints. This season has not gone as I scripted it and I am only sorry that I wasn’t able to play more for the great club that is Saints. My dream was to play for England and I manage to do that. All my actions were about trying to get more of those precious caps. I am so humbled to have got my chance. Playing for your country is the best feeling I have honestly given this my very best shot, and tried to make the most of every moment. For those of you who don’t know me personally and only know the public/social media image you will think rugby was just a job to me, and I was always focusing everything else outside of my sport. However, that was never the real story. I have spent my entire career trying to be the very best player I could be. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, my day was always about trying to improve. That meant sacrificing so much, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I want to thank every coach, trainer, physio and member of staff who has helped me along the way. Thank you to my family and to my amazing wife for your unwavering support, and finally thank you to all my team mates. I have honestly laughed my head off every day for 30 years. You made this journey what it was. I am excited about what the future holds.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Haskell made the short move across from Coventry to join Saints in 2018 after a stellar career at Wasps.
He made over 200 appearances in a 12-year career at Northampton’s Premiership rivals, splitting two spells at the club with stints across the globe at Stade Français, Ricoh Black Rams, and the Highlanders – playing on almost every stage world rugby has to offer.
Haskell also excelled at international level for over a decade, earning 77 caps for England, appearing at two Rugby World Cups to date and winning three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2016 – the same year he was named ‘Man of the Series’ in the Red Rose’s whitewash of the Wallabies in Australia.
The flanker was then called up to the 2017 British & Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand – playing against a Hurricanes side that was then led by Saints’ director of rugby Chris Boyd.
Commenting on Haskell’s decision, Boyd said: “James has had a tough time with injuries this season and not run out for Saints as often as he’d like, but despite that he’s had a huge impact here and is an invaluable member of the squad.
“He brings to the table a vast amount of experience and is a consummate professional not to mention a superb example for our younger players.
“He has been a wonderful servant to the English game and I’ve no doubt he’ll be just as successful in his retirement.”
England head coach Eddie Jones – who selected Haskell on X occasions – paid tribute to his career.
“When I look back at my time coaching James, it will always bring a smile to my face,” he said.
“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.
“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’.