Why Haskell’s botched move to the Reds is tough punishment

As the Annabel Newton saga drags on both here and back in New Zealand, the most alarming detail to emerge from the scandal was that the allegations against James Haskell cost him a move to join Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds next season.

Correctly, the former Wasps flanker is livid. Not because of the alluring potential salary of £80,000, but because Haskell has the had the opportunity taken away from him to go and play with some of the best players in the tournament, and perhaps even more crucially, to work under one of the top coaches around at the moment in Ewen McKenzie. “Link”, as he is popularly known around the world, joined the Reds in 2009 and after years of mediocrity lead them to the edge of the playoffs in 2010, finishing 5th, before following that up this season with championship success as they defeated the Crusaders in the final.

More importantly, he did it on a shoestring. Crowds in Brisbane were minimal at the start of the season, along with investment. McKenzie’s recruitment process was not based on recruiting marquee names from across Australia and beyond, but more scouring the players with the right attitude. Radike Samo joined the Reds after years in rugby wilderness, and became the starting number 8 for the Wallabies through the Tri-Nations and Rugby World Cup. Beau Robinson had spent season after season behind Phil Waugh at the Waratahs, and was playing club rugby and working part-time in a bar before McKenzie turned him into a Super Rugby champion.

This recruitment process was backed by a huge amount of faith in the Queensland Academy. In the final, 12 out of the 15 starting players came through the youth setup, whilst of that group James Horwill and Will Genia have gone on to captain their country. Over two seasons, they have become a title-winning juggernaut driven by youth and raw talent. Those two qualities are assets Haskell still has on his side at 26, but linking up with the Reds could have developed him dramatically as a player. Already a Heineken Cup winner with Wasps back in 2007, a Super Rugby title with the Reds this season would have taken him to levels of unprecedented success.

Instead, Haskell has joined the Otago Highlanders, back in Dunedin where England performed so poorly during the Rugby World Cup. There is no doubt that the Highlanders have some fine talent in their ranks; Adam Thomson, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade and Hosea Gear are the names that leap off the squad list, but their placings in the last four years of 11th, 11th, 12th and 8th do not bode well. Haskell is set for 5 months of intense, gruelling encounters where at times he may end up very much on the wrong side of the scoresheet. Otago weather is not pretty, and whilst one could argue that some time roughing it out in tough playing conditions could be good for Brand Haskell, he has just spent two years at Stade Français frustratingly failing to create success with a glitterati of talent in the brutal Top 14.

Playing for the Reds could have been the making of him. And yet because of an incident of light-hearted banter that has been exploited by the victim and melodramatically splashed all over the press, Haskell has lost a golden opportunity. Regardless of whether he clears his name or not, the damage is done. Instead of spending a season based on the Gold Coast, Haskell will be stuck in a town where the ground used up until last year was known as “The House of Pain”.

by Ben Coles

21 thoughts on “Why Haskell’s botched move to the Reds is tough punishment

  1. Not sure Reds would have been the better move to be honest. I think this comment is crucial: “one could argue that some time roughing it out in tough playing conditions could be good for Brand Haskell”.

    Although of course being stuck in Dunedin will not bring happy memories. Quite a small place too, so there’s even the chance he’ll bump into that horrible little moon-face blackmailer again.

    I think the experience will be character-building for him.

    Playing Super Rugby and mixing it up with the likes of McCaw, Pocock, Kaino et al on a regular basis has got to be a positive move for any back row forward. Regardless of which team he plays for I think this will be a tremendous moment in his rugby education.

  2. I was nodding my head right up to “light hearted banter” and then realised it’s just another piece of excusive journalism condoning poor behavior on the part of a talented adult.

    1. Having read the transcript form the video when the incident took place, that was my conclusion. The claims of sexual harassment were a blatant move on the part of the “victim” to get more compensation.

      I see how the comments the players made could be deemed offensive, but they then apologised and the matter was settled by both parties. It cost him a move to the champions of Super Rugby.

      No disrespect to Simon the Highlanders fan below, but it’s like having to settle for a move to Worcester rather than Saracens.

    1. Just what I was going to say. He needs to develop a rugby brain and get it banged into his thick skull that he isn’t the best player in the world and that he needs to develop. No where better to learn that lesson than NZ!

  3. Haskell will be worse off playing for the Highlanders in one category only….. His back pocket.

    One of the quirks of the conference format of the Super 15 is that playing for the Reds he would have played each Australian team twice while only playing 8 out of the 10 Sth African and New Zealand teams. The Reds played some fantastic Rugby last season and did well to put away a poor Crusaders in the final. It was to their advantage to finish top of the competition after round robin play. It must be considered however that 3 of the teams in their conference (who they played twice) finished in the bottom 5. In perspective the 5 New Zealand teams finished in the top 10.

    Playing in the New Zealand conference Haskell will be against stronger teams on a more regular basis. He will be playing in the most improved team from last years competition, coached by a future All Black coach, playing with World Cup winners and playing in a city where the team is returning to popularity after too many lean years.

    My only concern for Haskell is, is he good enough? As a Highlanders fan I am certainly looking forward to finding out!

  4. I think the Reds and Australian rugby dodged a bullet there.

    Aside from the FIGJAM factor, the last thing we need is to import more players at the expense of developing our own.

    Simon – the Highlanders came 8th last year. Given the conference format, your point regarding all the kiwi teams ending up in the top ten is not very meaningful, since two Australian, two South African and two kiwi teams made up the top 6 teams.

    I would also have argued that the Queensland reds were the most improved side from the prior year, coached by a future wallaby coach (who is also a world cup winner) alongside some of the most exciting players in the game today, playing in a city where the team is returning to popularity after too many lean years.

    Or he could have gone to Melbourne, a brand new side where he would be coached by a former wallaby coach and world cup winner etc, etc.

  5. I see the point about the Reds and above all about their coach.

    However, I am in agreement that the Highlanders might well be the best place for him. No-one there is going to give a stuff about his ‘brand’, it will be tough and he’ll need to grow up quickly

    I can only see this as a good thing for him. His undoubted ability is currently let down by what seems to be immaturity and a distended ego. Hopefully a season getting roughed up in NZ will knock some humility into him

    As to whether he is good enough?

    As a blind-side, I think he has the ability to be amongst the best in the world. But he has to learn that its not all about DOMINATING the opposition. He’s not close to the standard of players like Kaino, Harinordiquoy, Ferris or O’Brien yet though

    Given time and a lot of work on his skill set, he might just about make a decent 8 as well, but that’s more doubtful

    PS – in full agreement with the comments about his accuser

  6. Putting aside whether it will be better for him playing for the Reds or Highlanders, the fact is that he made a decision based upon his own judgement and then had the opportunity taken away from him through very llittle fault of his own. You could argue he shouldn’t have put himself in that position but you can’t legislate for some scab trying to make a buck out of nothing.

    I think it’s actually poor form from the Reds to get rid of him when all the facts were known, it almost suggests that they were getting cold feet about it and saw it as an easy out. But most of all he must be livid at the RFU (surprise surprise). Through their handling of the situation, the fact that they tried to get him to pay off the maid, didn’t defend him and slapped him with a suspended fine meant that he looked stone cold guilty to everyone in the outside world, even though they have admitted that he wasn’t. It was a shambolic piece of mismanagement and they have cost their player the chance to play where he wants. I’d be furious about that if I were him. If they had stood up and said that there was no truth in the allegations (which there wasn’t) and they can prove it (which they can) this would probably never have happened.

    One more to add to the RFU charge sheet.

  7. I think he is better off at the Highlanders too just in terms of the experience he will get there.

    I know Haskell aka Gunshow the Dominator gets a lot of stick, but he is already a great player, one of the few England forwards who can make hard yards, and who with a little bit of fine tuning could be become a truly great blind side, or perhaps even 8 – the best possible place he can get this experience is in NZ, and he will learn far more about top quality back row play there than he would have in Oz.

    Haskell at full steam is an asset to any side.

    1. This is why I wanted to see him at the Reds. A back row of Haskell, Robinson and Scott Higginbotham is a great unit.

  8. So the Highlanders were second choice. That information is not going to endear Haskell to the Highlanders faithful.

    Whatever went on at the hotel will never be resolved amicably. Neither of the parties can claim any moral high ground. I’m not privy to any of the activities, so like many, can only speculate.

    And as for ” Otago weather is not pretty “

    Got that all sorted – It’s called Forsyth Barr Stadium and it’s got a roof!!!. It’s pretty amazing – was great during RWC 2011.

    1. I can vouch for the Forsyth Barr Stadium…it’s pretty special, and strangely warm! Looking forward to seeing Haskell in action there…

  9. The NZ conference is a lot harder than the Australian conference – there aren’t any easy beats like the three in the Australian conference. So I think it’ll actually be beater for him.

    Also the style the highlanders play will be far more conducive to what he knows, and the style they play in the UK.

  10. Darn someone beat me to the comment about the roof in Dunedin. You failed to make some sort of joke about English goalkicking though Hutch… plus, Dunedin has Keith and the Speight’s Brewery Tour…

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