Changed Haskell finds perfect Paris match
James Haskell has a rather surprising revelation to make: in the last few seconds before running out for big matches, he likes to listen to Michael Bublé.
A cheesy Canadian crooner might not seem like the obvious choice for a granite-jawed international rugby player, but for Haskell that is exactly the point. "People have lots of preconceptions about me," he says, unblinkingly, "and they're all wrong."
For a man yet to nail down a regular place in the England side, Haskell has attracted a considerable amount of attention. Not all of it has been entirely favourable.
"My biggest issue is that lots of things are spoken about me before people have actually met me," he says, squashed into an antique chair at England's training headquarters at Pennyhill Park.
"People throw words around like 'Brand Haskell', because of something they've read on a website, but none of that exists. I work as hard as anyone, perhaps harder, to be good at my game. For me it's only about wanting to perform well for my country."
Ah yes. Brand Haskell. It's not the 24-year-old's rugby that generally causes him problems. Most England fans would agree that he fully deserves his recall for this Saturday's battle against Argentina. What some people seem to struggle with - among them a fair few regular 606 and BBC blog users - is the perception that Haskell is more interested in raising his profile than rucking, more focused on Tweets than tackles.
There's the official website, with its animated Haskell figure and 'JH' logo drawn to look like a set of posts, the naked calendar, the controversial decision to ply his club trade in Paris, and the Twitter updates (sample from the summer: "I am out the england squad which is gutting on every level but another challenge which I accept and will dominate".)
Much of the criticism is unfair. There's nothing inherently wrong with having a personal website - lots of people, sports stars or otherwise, do - and the calendar was a charity one that also featured Simon Shaw, Tom Palmer and Olly Barkley. The switch to Stade Francais has worked well for his game, and as for Twitter - well, if we're going to hang people for their throwaway 140-character updates, all of us are in trouble.
All the same, it has clearly taken its toll.
"Anyone who has the time to fill in comments online, you know - obviously people can have an opinion, but I don't care what people say," Haskell tells me, blood congealing slowly around a dark red cut across the bridge of his nose.
"I don't ever look at anything online, especially people's comments, because they bear no resemblance to me. All I need to worry about is what's happening next to me and how hard I work, and what the people in power and importance, like the coaches, think.
"With Twitter it's quite nice to just have a little avenue to express your feelings. And the fact that people are able to give their opinions back - it's quite enjoyable. It can also be a little bit addictive, that constant updating, but from my perspective all I want to be known for is being a rugby player. The best way to answer these people who have an opinion is to let my rugby do the talking."
Haskell speaks with the weariness of a man who has had his fingers burned too many times.
"Out in France I don't do any media, I don't talk to any PRs or anything - my focus is just on the rugby. I just really wanted to concentrate on my rugby.
"The relief of not having any - the French media are very different to over here, and I can just get on with playing. I'm like an academy player over in France . I live with my friends, we live in a nice house, we just turn up for training, we go out and enjoy Paris - the sights, the restaurants. And that's it. It's simplified and it's perfect. It's all I want to do."
So all the attention, the off-the-field activities, became impossible to deal with?
"I think the period I was in, and the sort of rugby I was playing, and some of the things that happened in my private life, and that kind of stuff just meant that it all became too much. So having the new simplicity is really nice."
Haskell's selection - allied to the promotions for his fellow replacements against Australia, Paul Hodgson and Dylan Hartley (Duncan Bell's selection owing to David Wilson's injury) - reflects Martin Johnson's pressing need to inject pace and dynamism into a side that looked as stodgy as cold porridge for large parts of the defeat to Australia.
Johnson is well aware that defeat to Argentina, even though they are two places higher than England in the current IRB world rankings, would be considered unpalatable by large sections of the Twickenham crowd. While a loss is unlikely to have the same terminal impact on his role as the Pumas' 25-18 win in 2006 had on Andy Robinson's - seven defeats in 12 games might be a depressing record, but it's no seven reverses in a row - it would add further weight to the criticism that Johnson has failed to noticeably improve England's fortunes in his year in charge.
That Haskell is one of the men charged with lifting the side might strike some as a little ironic, considering he was left out of Johnson's elite squad in July and warned publicly by the manager that his move to France could put any future England place in jeopardy.
Haskell, however, says he never felt that he had been left out in the cold.
"People wanted to make a big deal about me not being in the squad, but I spoke to Martin and he told me that if I performed and performed well, I'd be back in it. I never missed any games for England or any training, so the relevance of being included in that squad was by-the-by."
His switch from Wasps to Stade drew criticism from other learned quarters (his old mentor Lawrence Dallaglio was particularly disappointed to lose his talents) but Haskell seems a revitalised and more focused player for the move.
At times last season his progression seemed to have stalled, the rampant enthusiasm that saw him dubbed 'Keeno' by Dallaglio and Joe Worsley as a young Wasp diluted by the demands of the English game.
Haskell shows the sort of dynamism in training that England will be looking for on Saturday
"Sometimes in the past I think I got caught up in trying to be a master of everything" he admits. "You're just not going to be able to do that as a rugby player - even the best players in the world have got areas they need to work on.
"You have to play to your strengths, and that's what I've done. I've fitted in with a very good back row in France, which has meant that I've been able to cultivate what I'm good at, which is ball-carrying, tackling and competing for the ball. That's exactly what I want to bring to this squad."
Haskell has talked in the past about wanting to make the number six jersey his own. All 13 of his previous starts for the national side have come at blind-side, and if he hasn't always remained there ("My first game in 2007I started at six, but I only lasted 19 seconds because Joe Worsley got knocked out,") his selection at eight might raise eyebrows with Wasps fans who saw him struggle there at times over the last few seasons.
Haskell nods. "Yeah. For a long time Lawrence just kept playing, and the strengths I had in areas of the game were at six and seven at that period of time. I've played most of the time at six or seven for Stade and I think those are my key positions, but the opportunity to play at eight is something I can handle.
"I have the experience to do that, I think I can offer something there and I'm looking forward to it. I'm not going to make any assertions about me wanting to stay there or not stay there - I've got an opportunity to play, and that's all that matters. To fit into the England squad you would play anywhere."
And so, just before kick-off at Twickenham on Saturday, Michael Bublé will get the nod once again.
The tune of choice? 'Haven't Met You Yet'. As far as Haskell is concerned, it could hardly be more appropriate.