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James Haskell favours a switch to summer rugby in England

James Haskell insists there is no great mystery behind New Zealand's dominance of the sport but believes the English game would benefit from changing to a summer season.

The All Blacks became the first team to defend the World Cup after toppling Australia in last Saturday's pulsating final at Twickenham to be crowned champions for an unprecedented third time.

The absence of northern hemisphere representation from the semi-finals onwards and England's failure to advance from the group stage in their worst performance in eight editions of competition has reopened the debate over Europe's shortcomings.

Haskell is the only Red Rose player to have spent a season in southern hemisphere provincial rugby after completing a year-long spell with Super 15 franchise the Highlanders in 2012, providing him with an insight into the All Blacks' success.

"When I went to New Zealand I thought people would be throwing the ball out the back door all the time and that I'd have to be able to do drop-goals like Zinzan Brooke," Haskell said.

"Low and behold it turned out that rugby is rugby wherever you go, but there are some key differences. Culturally in New Zealand they live and breathe rugby.

"First and foremost everyone wants to be a rugby player, no one wants to be in 'The Only Way Is Essex' or a footballer. It helps when the whole nation is geared towards one thing.

"They play touch as soon as they can walk, in good weather. If they don't make their Super 15 team, they play club rugby. The surfaces are better across the board and I didn't have one wet weather game while I was there.

"The only change I can suggest if you want us to compete is to make rugby over here a summer sport.

"Then we can play in dry weather and play a style of rugby we want to play. There's no point wanting to be like New Zealand because we're not them.

"There isn't a miracle answer, but if we encouraged more people to play touch, focus on the skills and play in the summer, things would change."

Haskell has offered his perspective on England's faults during the home World Cup as part of the player feedback element of the Rugby Football Union's review into why the nation crashed out at the group stage for the first time.

"It didn't work out and there are things that need to be changed, but everyone worked extremely hard," Haskell said.

"That's the problem of going out in the pool stage - all the good work gets eradicated.

"People have been throwing things out there like we needed to be fitter, but that's just a cheap shot that is backed up by no understanding. It means nothing because we were the fittest we'd ever been.

"It's important not to get caught up in the rhetoric and people with agendas throwing stuff out there, people with no idea who want to score points."

Haskell offers a robust defence of England's much-maligned captain and openside Chris Robshaw, who he insists is criticised unfairly while the exaltation of Australia's poaching number eight David Pocock is at times misplaced.

"David Pocock is technically fantastic, but if you watch him he has a licence to do that. He chooses his runs across the field," he said.

"I remember one commentator saying Pocock 'is being really dominant at the breakdown, he didn't release the ball but the referee knows he's that good he can get away with it'.

"I'm like 'what are you saying mate, the referees change the rules for the player?'. I was watching this incredulously.

"But apparently because Pocock is from another country, we just laugh and smile and say that's normal.

"I saw Chris Robshaw go on the ball for about 30 seconds, stealing it. He then gets cleared out and the commentator says 'ooh there's Chris Robshaw failing again'. Mate, he was on the ball for 30 seconds longer than the other bloke."


From Belfast Telegraph