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James Haskell has lifted the lid on England's disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign, revealing divisions in the camp and lambasting the leadership skills of coach Stuart Lancaster. In his new book, the 35-year-old describes his "most David Brent moment" being coached by Lancaster, who, he said, treated the players like schoolchildren prior to the tournament.
Haskell, who was left on the bench as England crashed out in the group stages in 2015, also claims then captain Chris Robshaw "was f----- over" and unfairly made a scapegoat over their decisive defeat against Wales.
In 2015, Lancaster had pointed blame at Robshaw for spurning a kick for goal that might have earned the side a draw. Former Wasps flanker Haskell stops short of giving his own full version of events on the pitch, but says: "I can say hand on heart it was not the captain Chris Robshaw’s fault in any way."
"Perhaps when everyone has retired I will tell what really happened out on the pitch that day as I was in the team huddle," he added. Of Robshaw, he said: "It shows the mark of the man that he has never come out and said what happened."
On the second day of exclusive Telegraph extracts from the former England forward's explosive new book 'What a Flanker', Haskell delivers a withering assessment of Lancaster's communication style. "On the 2012 tour of South Africa, we were treated like kids," he writes. "It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that Stuart was an ex-teacher... Being treated like kids on a school trip bred resentment."
Haskell said he cringed during one leadership presentation from Lancaster on credibility. "This was the most David Brent moment I have ever experienced in my life."
He joked that "we're still waiting for the benefits" of the coaches' "120 per cent" training preparation for the 2015 World Cup, when "everything was based on the England team being fitter than New Zealand".
"Everyone who was part of that squad thought we could win the World Cup," he said. "But after we’d been dumped out in the pool stages, I couldn’t understand why everyone was so angry."
Haskell goes on to address claims from Sam Burgess that England’s early World Cup exit "was down to certain selfish characters in the camp". "I was an outgoing personality, but I was never divisive," he added. "And Stuart has to take some responsibility for those that were. I told him a couple of times to speak to players who weren’t in the starting line-up and had begun to feel alienated. He never did."
Haskell also describes a heavy-drinking end to a Lions tour of New Zealand, in which "I thought we’d killed Rory Best" during a drunken prank.