JAMES HASKELL is back in an England shirt — and laughing at the critics who wrote him off as an international has-been at 24 when he moved from Wasps to Stade Francais last summer.
Haskell starts at No8 against Argentina on Saturday while Leicester’s Jordan Crane, picked ahead of him for the now-traditional opening Autumn Test defeat against Australia last week, has been sent home.
Haskell remembers only too well the furore when, with Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer, he decided to leave Adams Park for France, where salary caps, unlike scrum caps, have yet to be invented.
Haskell, glaringly left out of England boss Martin Johnson’s 32-man elite squad this season, has forced his way back into a side decimated by injury and said: “Being away from my family and other things has helped me grow up as a person.
“What I’ve liked about France is that I am removed from everyone and all my focus is on the rugby.
“I have started afresh at Stade and I feel like an academy player again. I live with Ollie Phillips and my brother.
“We train, then come back and chill out. We do go out in parts of Paris, but it has turned out to be a very simple life and that’s what seems to work for me.
“Even though I thought, ‘Just knuckle down in France and there will be an opportunity’, certain people — I won’t mention any names — said, ‘You’re never going to play for England, have a good time in France’. So I did find it difficult and it did frustrate me.
“Some people said I would get lost in the Paris nightlife but I haven’t actually had many nights out.
“That whole culture of partying — that conflict between substance and flashiness — is totally removed at Stade. All we do is rugby.
“It can sound quite boring but for someone who has been a bit hectic and maybe let themselves be distracted, it means I am totally focused on the rugby now and I love it. It is very simple and I want it to stay that way.
“I have found myself a little bit as a player out there and I feel better about things.
“There was so much speculation and so many people said this move was all about money.
“I was playing with world-class players at Wasps but it is slightly different at Stade. I have found my role.
“Sometimes in England, you spend your whole time trying to be the best at everything — you are always trying to change your game. Now, I know what I am good at and I fit into that side quite well. When you are playing alongside guys like Parisse, Leguizamon and Simon Taylor, they do their job and I do mine.
“That’s what I want to do on Saturday. I’m not going to make any promises but I’m just going to go out and do what I do, and hopefully that will be good enough.”
Haskell twittered last night: "Very pleased to be back in the team. Thank you tweeps for you best wishes. Very happy for my best bud as well Paul Doran-Jones."