Rugby broke my body – my fin­gers pop out and I can’t run ...

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union -

Rugby has got a lot of things right and also has an aw­ful lot of prob­lems, but the most press­ing con­cern, for any­one who loves the game and pro­fesses to be con­cerned about the peo­ple who play it, is player wel­fare.

Peo­ple don’t re­alise the hell rugby play­ers put their bod­ies through. I had it rel­a­tively easy but I still wake up in pain ev­ery day, and can’t run any­more. I only had four op­er­a­tions dur­ing my ca­reer: I had a huge piece of float­ing bone re­moved from my an­kle; a patel­lar ten­don scrape on my knee; toe re­con­struc­tion surgery; and surgery to fuse a fin­ger be­cause it kept pop­ping out. The fin­ger would pop out when some­one shook my hand and even when I was asleep. I knew it was time to get it fixed when I went on hol­i­day af­ter the tour and it kept pop­ping out when­ever I was asleep or went to switch the light off.

I was in pain for so much of my ca­reer that it be­came nor­mal. Ev­ery­thing would be sore – my neck, my shoul­ders, my back, my hips, my an­kles, my feet, my toes. Then I’d limp down­stairs, make break­fast, limp out to the car and drive to train­ing. I just had to get on with it.

I was never a pill-smasher, but many times I got my an­kles and toes jabbed with anaes­thetic or anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries to numb them so I could play, or post-surgery to deal with pain.

Shoul­der­ing the bur­den: James Haskell is treated by ex-Eng­land physio Dan Lewin­don and (right) at Wasps

Be­fore one in­ter­na­tional, I was in so much pain but un­will­ing to tell any­one that I ended up giv­ing my­self an anti-in­flam­ma­tory in­jec­tion in the but­tock in the chang­ing room toi­lets. It was 100 per cent le­gal, and only a Voltarol jab, but it felt very wrong. I didn’t want to be stick­ing nee­dles in my a---, and I

Shortly af­ter sign­ing for Stade Fran­cais in 2009, my agent called me and said, “The owner wants you to do a photo shoot for a cal­en­dar.” My im­me­di­ate thought was, “No way, it’s just go­ing to con­firm what ev­ery­one has been say­ing. That I’ve dis­ap­peared up my own a---.” So I told my agent to tell the owner I wasn’t in­ter­ested. Ten min­utes later, my agent phoned back. “Lis­ten. The owner is not best pleased. If you don’t do it, it would not be a good start to your ca­reer at Stade.”

I dis­cov­ered that the cal­en­dar – called Dieux du Stade: Gods of the Sta­dium – had be­come the best­selling cal­en­dar in Europe, fea­tur­ing arty pho­tos of sports­peo­ple stripped and squint­ing into the mid­dle dis­tance. It was also the brain­child of Stade owner Max Guazz­ini, who had trans­formed the club from third di­vi­sion nonen­ti­ties into Top 14 ti­tans. So, I got on the Eurostar and was taken to a non­de­script mul­ti­storey car park and told to take off all my clothes. Next, a woman opened a holdall and pulled out one of those high-pres­sure spray guns and filled it with gold paint. Half an hour later, I was cov­ered from head to toe in gold. prob­a­bly should not have played, but the de­sire to rep­re­sent your club or coun­try burns very bright. You don’t want to let some­one else have that shirt. One coach whom I had worked with dur­ing some age­group rugby with Eng­land, who went on to coach in the Premier­ship, had a fa­mous say­ing: “What’s wrong, chief? Noth­ing a bit of pills and tape won’t fix.”

His so­lu­tion to any prob­lem was to get soup and pills down a stricken player’s neck and just strap up the in­jury. Sadly, quite a few play­ers adopted that mantra and ended up fall­ing to bits.

I think in the past too many coaches took ad­van­tage of good, loyal peo­ple who des­per­ately wanted to do what was best for the team. No player wants to be seen as weak, not putting their body through the wringer when ev­ery­one else is.

I was then led onto the roof of the car park, wear­ing fluffy pink slip­pers and dress­ing gown, to be met by a flam­boy­ant Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher, who cooed: “I’m go­ing to make you so gor­geous! I’m go­ing to make you shine!”

I lost the gown and slip­pers, so I was naked. And now I no­ticed two women look­ing at me through their of­fice win­dow, shout­ing, “Petit! Petit!”, which I think means big in French.

Sud­denly this pho­tog­ra­pher was up in my face again. “Lis­ten, James, I need you to prance like a pony! Like a horse!”

“Prance?” I said. “Mate, you’re talk­ing to the wrong man.”

“I can see you’re a bit nervous, James,” he replied. “But we’ve all got what you’ve got. If it would make you feel bet­ter, I’ll show you mine. “Af­ter all, I’ve seen yours!”

Be­fore I could say, “No, don’t do it, you mad Amer­i­can b------!”, he’d un­zipped his fly and flopped his old chap out. At that, I called a time­out, threw on my gown in a real huff and minced all the way back to my dress­ing room.

While var­i­ous gofers banged on the door, im­plor­ing me to con­tinue, I took a long, hard look at my­self in the mir­ror. “This is not great,” I thought to my­self.

But then I re­mem­bered whose brain­child this was – Max Guazz­ini. So I flung open the door, marched back onto that car park roof and pranced like a wild stal­lion. I ended up on the front page of the Dieux du Stade and did it ev­ery year for four years. And you know what? I loved ev­ery minute of it.

Naked con­tract: Pos­ing in a cal­en­dar nude was part of the deal when James Haskell signed for Stade Fran­cais

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