James Haskell was too busy honing his deejaying skills to worry about regaining his England place over the summer after missing out on the series defeat by South Africa.
Haskell, who returned to the England party for last week’s training camp, was left at home as Brad Shields and Tom Curry were given chances to press their claims against the Springboks, and the 33-year-old flanker only kept a fleeting eye on events in South Africa.
After finishing his season with Wasps before joining Northampton, he completed a music production course and found himself deejaying at Harper Adams university in Newport, Shropshire, as well as headlining in front of 4,000 young farmers at a conference in Blackpool – an experience he claims was the next best thing to running out for an international match.
“It was incredible and probably the closest thing to playing a game,” he said. “You walk out at Twickenham to 80,000 people and don’t notice the crowd. When you walk out, I underestimated this, there were 4,000 people and me. And their whole night was being defined whether I played good or bad music. When they start reacting well, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Haskell’s zest for extra-curricular pursuits is well known but having chosen to sign for Northampton to keep alive his hopes of appearing at a third World Cup next year, he is not about to give up the day job. “I love deejaying and got the opportunity to do a music production course online and loved it,” he said, “but I am about as musically talented as a house brick. I made a track but I don’t think it will be No 1 any time soon. Like most things in life I got very into it and stressed when I knew I wasn’t making a No 1.”
Haskell appears fully refreshed following a full five weeks off after niggling injuries restricted him to only one England start last season. His return to the squad can be seen as early vindication of his decision to stay in the Premiership but with Saracens’ Michael Rhodes called up for the first time, Haskell is only too aware of the back-row competition.
“With any international setup you are never quite sure if you are in or out,” he added. “Eddie [Jones] spoke to me before the tour to say I would be rested and for the first time in my career I have had five weeks off – so I maximised that.
“I followed the guys in South Africa but I haven’t been too up or down. If someone plays better or the coaches think they are better, that’s one thing, but if you are doing all you can to be as good as you can be then that’s all you have to worry about.
“I wasn’t pressed up against the TV watching every moment in South Africa and I didn’t read the sports section. Me sitting at home and worrying about Brad Shields, or Rhodesy or Tom Curry is just going to do nothing. I am sure they are not worried about me.”
Haskell believes he has now settled in at Northampton – his second Premiership club after 12 years across two spells with Wasps – after what he described as “the first day at school” on arrival. “Dylan [Hartley] and Courtney [Lawes] found it a bit weird initially me walking into the changing room – ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ – and certainly when I posted a few photos of me wearing Saints kit, even Mako [Vunipola] said to me it just looks weird you in Saints kit. But the idea of being at a different club lasted all of 30 seconds. Now it feels like business as usual.”