Haskell joins Highlanders

2011-11-02 10:04

Wellington - England Rugby World Cup loose forward James Haskell is to play Super Rugby next season in a surprise move to the Highlanders.

Haskell is one of 28 new names included in the five New Zealand franchises announced on Wednesday, less than a week after the Highlanders said he was unlikely to join them.

The 26-year-old had expressed an interest in playing Super Rugby, but Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said as recently as last Friday that he was "not on the list of available players at the moment so we can't pick him".

But the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) confirmed on Wednesday that Haskell was one of five overseas players who appeared in the World Cup last month to take up places in New Zealand Super Rugby sides for next year.

Samoan Tusi Pisi is joining the Hurricanes, while Tongan Sona Taumalolo and Samoans Kane Thompson and Mahonri Schwalger will line up with the Chiefs.

Haskell, who can play in all three loose forward positions, will link up with the Highlanders after completing a spell with the Ricoh Black Rams in Japan, and at the end of the Super Rugby season he will rejoin London Wasps.

Being able to secure the services of the 42-Test veteran was a "sign of the times", Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph told Fairfax Media.

"It's my job to pick the best players available in the world now, not just Otago."

Haskell told The Times newspaper in England his move to the Highlanders was an opportunity to test himself in the ultimate playing environment.

"I think it will help me in my desire to improve and become a better player for England," he said.

"The move to New Zealand and playing with and against some of the best players in the world in the country which holds the World Cup is another important step in that direction. That is the ultimate playing environment," he said.

Haskell was one of the few England players to enhance their reputation during the World Cup, although he was also publicly reprimanded by manager Martin Johnson over an off-field incident in a Dunedin hotel during the tournament.

From the All Blacks squad which beat France 8-7 in the World Cup final last month, 27 players are returning for the Super Rugby season.

NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorenson described the franchises as "the strongest and most exciting" seen off the back of a World Cup year.