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I drank lots of ‘dirty’ pints and stuck toothpicks in my face during rugby days, reveals James Haskell


RUGBY star James Haskell knows that people love to hate him.

The controversial ex-England ace says: “Life would have been far simpler if I’d been more like most of my old team-mates — uncomplicated and humble — but that’s just not me.”

James, 35, who is married to Chloe Madeley, 33, was one of the biggest characters in the game and played all around the world.

In his new book, What A Flanker, he is ruthlessly honest about life as a top- flight player, including fallouts with coaches, raucous team socials and, of course, triumph on the pitch.

Here, in an exclusive extract, James describes the good, the bad, and the rugby from his colourful career.

CONFIDENCE: My wife Chloe always says to me: “No wonder rugby players have all got self-confidence issues, you’re all so horrible to each other all the time.”

She’s right. When I was in I’m A Celebrity, if I’d behaved like I do with my rugby mates I would have been turfed out after a few hours.

Being part of a rugby team is a ruthless existence. One bad haircut, one bad shirt, one pair of dodgy shoes, one misstep in any direction and you’re labelled for life. But I adored that environment. I was glad to take it and even gladder to dish it out.

PRANKS: Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson used to put eggs in my boots, the little b*****d.

Luckily, they weren’t raw. Unluckily, they were so hard boiled that I once almost broke my ankle trying to put my boot on.

I resisted taking revenge, because once you get drawn into tit-for-tat pranking it can so easily get out of hand and become all-consuming.

One opportunity I couldn’t pass up to prank someone was when Andy Goode bought his wife some Louboutin shoes and made the rookie mistake of leaving them unattended in the changing room. For probably about two seconds.

I removed the shoes from the box and replaced them with some old rugby boots before Goodey took the box home and wrapped it up for his wife’s birthday.

The following day, Goodey suddenly popped up in a WhatsApp group.

“Right, which one of you wers nicked my wife’s Louboutins? She’s unwrapped her birthday present to find a pair of muddy size 12 Adidas boots.”

Many changing room gags involved either stealing or hiding something.

Wasps hooker Ben Gotting spent two weeks walking around with a 15kg dumbbell in his bag. Wasps and England team-mate Elliot Daly, who adored a prank, once cleared my bag out, wrapped everything in clingfilm and stapled it to the ceiling.

There was also lots of sneaking into hotel rooms and turning them upside down, while there isn’t a rugby player in history who hasn’t had his keys nicked and his car moved.

TEAM SOCIALS: Being a professional rugby player is bloody hard work. It’s not like working down a mine — we love it and we get paid well — but it takes its toll, physically and mentally.

So the odd team social serves a purpose. It’s an essential release and bonding experience.

Team socials have their heroes (the team-mate — normally Danny Cipriani — who walks off with the most beautiful woman anyone has ever laid eyes on), their anti-heroes (the team-mate who sticks a bottle of lager up his a**e and does a handstand) and their villains (the team-mate who punches someone for no good reason).

I’ve been made to drink seven raw eggs, vodka-soaked tampons and plenty of “dirty” pints, consisting of a bar’s top shelf and various other bits and bobs. But nothing seriously weird.

That’s not to say some serious drinking didn’t go on, and the thing you feared most was being caught trying to avoid it.

DRINKING GAMES: I’ve never met a man who could drink so much without falling over as Rory Best, the Irish hooker I played alongside during the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.

I spent 15 hours drinking with him at our hotel on the day after the final Test, playing his drinking games, which were rather rudimentary. One was called “toothpicks”, which simply involved sticking toothpicks in our faces.

Another was called “drink”, which involved necking whatever drink you had in front of you whenever Rory said “drink”.

After about seven hours, I noticed that Rory was starting to drift off. So I said to him: “Come on old fella, let’s have a little lie down.”

I wheeled in the hospital bed that had been our team-mate Jack Nowell’s place of rest the night before, and we put Rory on it and tucked him in so he looked like a corpse. Within about 30 seconds he was asleep.

Then I said: “Why don’t we wheel him outside and leave him on the street?”

We pushed him through the hotel, sniggering like children, but when we got him outside I said: “Why don’t we push him down that hill?”

Our Lions hotel was right on top of a huge hill in Auckland that sloped down for miles to the sea.

Without waiting for a response, I kicked the back of his bed and off he went.

For the first ten seconds or so we all thought this was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen, but as the hill became steeper, the bed picked up speed and panic set in.

Now there were four or five of us chasing Rory in this bed, shouting and screaming as people in suits wandered past on their way home from work.

For a few moments I thought we’d killed Rory, one of Ireland’s great rugby heroes.

But we and, more importantly, Rory, were saved by a fortuitous bend in the road, which sent him swerving into a bus stop, scattering commuters and depositing him on to the pavement.

People were screaming because they thought he was a runaway corpse that had rolled out the back of some undertaker’s ambulance. Rory was just very confused.

SHOOTING: It doesn’t matter how hard the coaches make you work in a training camp, players will always fill their downtime with mischief.

While we were preparing at Pennyhill Park in Surrey for the 2011 World Cup, I brought my rifle and shot rabbits on the golf course after dinner. I didn’t ask permission, but I viewed it as pest control.

Other lads started bringing air guns in, so that every afternoon, during “nap time”, you’d hear a chorus of shooting.

You’d look up and see the barrels of guns pointing out of windows and hear shots hitting targets stuck to trees at the back of the hotel — and this was a five-star hotel with lots of visitors apart from us — until, one day, we were all called into an emergency meeting.

Coach Martin “Johnno” Johnson stormed in and roared: “Lads, what the f***’s been going on?” Silence.

“I’ve been told some of you have been firing guns. Please tell me no one has brought a firearm on to the property?”

Some idiot tried to deny it. “B**ks! I know you have, because apparently a family was out for a walk and came across a dead fox wrapped around a tree with a paper target stuck on its face!”

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