James Haskell insists he is ready to do himself and England justice as he prepares to make his comeback in the RBS 6 Nations opener against France at Twickenham.
Haskell, 31, has played less than one hour of rugby this year following toe surgery in January, but could be set for a place on England’s bench when head coach Eddie Jones names his team today.
Haskell’s inclusion in the squad is something of a gamble given that the toe injury, which gave way during England’s second Test in Australia last June, sidelined him for more than six months.
But the defiant Wasps flanker believes he is mentally and physically set to defend England’s Six Nations title.
“I’m confident I am fine and so are the coaches here,” Haskell said. “If I get the opportunity to take to the field or start the game then I will do my best. I have had six months of training, fitness and rehabilitation, and the way we train here is super intense. Yesterday’s session was like an 80-minute game.
“I feel pretty prepared to do myself justice and to do the team justice. I would not play if I didn’t think I could. I would put my hand up and say that I am just not ready because there are plenty of boys who are champing at the bit and it is more important to put the team first.”
Haskell is rated highly by Jones and was an integral fixture during England’s Grand Slam success and subsequent tour of Australia in which they went unbeaten.
But his spell on the sidelines has enabled Northampton’s Tom Wood to rise to prominence and Haskell faces a tough test to regain his status as England’s number one openside flanker.
Meanwhile, England are still sweating over the fitness of George Kruis. Kruis, who was only given the all-clear to face France last week after recovering from a fractured cheekbone, was forced to miss training this week with a knee injury. If Kruis is ruled out, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury will reform the second row partnership that started against South Africa and Fiji during the autumn.
“George is with our medical group and they’re assessing how he is,” England assistant coach Paul Gustard said.
“We’ve had our meetings as coaches this morning and medical have been looking after the players. I don’t know how the assessment has gone.
“We pride ourselves as a nation about the quality we have around the country. As a coaching group from day one we were very excited about the talent we’ve got in English rugby at the moment.
“We’re proving we can cope with people not being in the team and while there are people missing in this Six Nations there are also people returning and that’s also exciting. The likes of Maro Itoje and James Haskell coming back into the group is encouraging.”
Itoje, the dynamic 22-year-old, who missed the autumn internationals with a hand injury, will move from lock to fill the void at blindside flanker created by Chris Robshaw’s Championship-ending shoulder surgery.
England, on a 14-match winning run, will start the tournament as favourites to defend their title. But Custard insists their sole concern is victory against France on Saturday.
“All we want to do is go out and win,” Custard added. “Our entire focus since January 1, even before that since we beat Australia at Twickenham, is to beat France.”
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