DUBAI, 30 November 2021 – Former English rugby union player James Haskell toured Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday ahead of the upcoming Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, which kicks off on Thursday, 2 December.
Haskell, one of England’s greatest rugby players, described his excitement at visiting the Expo, and discussed the upcoming tournament as well as his plans for future.
The Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens follows some exciting international rugby in the northern hemisphere over the past few weeks. Whatever the risks of any future variants of COVID-19, you must be enjoying seeing rugby back, alive and well?
“I feel very lucky to be here as an Emirates Dubai Sevens ambassador. We had incredible autumn internationals across Europe, and we’re back at the signature Sevens tournament, which is the biggest and best in the world. People have been missing rugby. We’re all done with COVID-19 – let’s move on and enjoy some amazing Sevens in one of the best countries in the world.”
Which team do you think will win the Sevens?
“Last week, the [first] tournament took place behind closed doors, whereas this [second tournament] is being played in front of crowds. South Africa did extremely well to win. You know the crowd will have an influence too and the Fijians love to perform in front of a full house, which we’re expecting to see this week.”
What are your first impressions of Expo?
“I’ve been coming to Dubai for a number of years – this is probably my 25th trip here. I think Expo is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s amazing to see how invested people are – each participating country has created a fantastic pavilion. There are fantastic experiences and landmark events going on here and I’m very, very excited to be here. I want to see what the UK Pavilion has to offer – apparently it’s very AI-based, plus the Emirates Pavilion, which looks at the future of commercial aviation – I’m looking forward to seeing how they do. I’m also looking forward to checking out a lot of food stands, as eating is my second passion.”
There’s currently a big debate in rugby on the safety of players, specifically regarding head injuries. You had plenty of tackles in your time. Can the current way of playing the game continue or should the rules evolve?
“I am a very vocal advocate of changing the way the players are looked after and the amount of contact they’re doing during training, which I think needs to change. Rugby is a contact sport, which is dangerous, like boxing. You can’t ask boxer
s to punch lightly, just as you can’t ask players to tackle lightly. You have to be aware of the risks, but could we look after players better? Yes. Do we need to do as much contact in training? Absolutely not. Do we need to look at player welfare and how much recovery we allow players? Yes. Do we need to get rid of the seven-day type of protocol and return to 21 days for initial repercussion? One hundred per cent. A lot of this has been debated, but I think there’s way more we can do: talk has to stop and action has to be taken.”
The England rugby team that’s emerged this season is starting to show a generational change, with Eddie Jones promoting some young players, who seem to have fared well and achieved good results. What’s your view of Eddie Jones’ style, and how is this team evolving?
“Eddie Jones is the best coach I’ve ever worked with. I’ve won 77 caps and I would have swapped the first 50 to work with him more. I think he always backs his players and in 2018, he changed the team before they went on to get to the World Cup finals. He did exactly the same in 2020 – and the World Cup is coming up pretty quickly. There’s an opportunity to put new players in to give them experience during this autumn. They have achieved a couple of narrow victories. Is it as polished as they would want? No, but it’s going to take a little bit of time to get there and I believe he’s the best man for the job.”
You have now stepped back from your ambitions to fight in mixed martial arts. What are you planning to do next in your career?
“I started on my journey into MMA with real intensity. We trained for a year but COVID-19 got in the way of my first fight. Unfortunately, due to injury, I had spinal surgery two months ago. I’m now on the road to recovery but it has meant that I have changed my priorities. My second book is out now, with another book coming out in 2022; my third house music track is also out at the moment. I’m DJing around the world and I’ve just started my live show, which includes nine minutes of stories and stand-up, so I have enough to be getting on with for the rest of my life rather than worrying about fighting. I want to keep evolving and getting better on those fronts, and my aspirations to perform and to continue being a colossal show-off are burning bright.”
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