England flanker James Haskell has entered the debate over the choke tackle by dismissing it as a mere sideshow that will have little influence on Sunday’s Six Nations encounter with Ireland.
The technique became a talking point at the start of the week when Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards declared it was “very dangerous” and a “blight on the game” that should be outlawed.
In executing it, a tackled player is deliberately hit, man and ball, around the chest and shoulder area and prevented from going to ground. This creates a maul situation and can gain the defending team a turnover scrum.
The choke tackle was devised by Ireland and they remain its finest exponents, while England view it as a tool to be used sparingly knowing that if executed poorly, it could cost them valuable yards.
Forwards coach Graham Rowntree regards Haskell as most accomplished at the technique among his players, but the blindside flanker is keen not to overstate its value.
“It’s not a skill I look to use, I’d much rather be a leg tackler and destructive tackler,” Haskell said.
“My focus was always leg tackling – I came out of the (former England and Wasps back row) Joe Worsley school of tackling. I learned a lot from him.
“Some teams can employ it as a tactic. Andy Farrell is our defence coach and he never talks about using it.
“We’re all about being physical and getting guys to ground and I much prefer doing that.
“I know Shaun Edwards has come out saying it should be banned and he knows what he’s talking about, but while it’s a rule it’s a rule.
“I don’t think it’s a game-changer and it won’t decide Sunday’s game, but it is a useful tool and while it is a rule you have to be good at it.
“If you hit someone high and someone else hits them low and there’s an opportunity to hold them up, you have to do it.”
Of greater concern to Haskell than the choke tackle are the repercussions of England making another sluggish start when they seek to subdue canny Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Six of Haskell’s 55 caps have been won against the Irish and as Wasps captain he has faced their leading province Leinster twice in Europe this season, losing in Dublin before drawing in Coventry.
The flanker knows from bitter experience the reigning champions will use their wits to test the law book and if they are allowed to impose their game plan, a long afternoon awaits in a showdown pivotal to the outcome of the Six Nations
England coughed up early leads against Wales and Italy, but Haskell believes it is Ireland who will capitalise most ruthlessly if the title favourites are slow out of the blocks once again.
“Irish teams have that ability to be physical and play right on the edge, plus they have that X-factor to finish chances off,” Haskell said.
“Against Leinster in Coventry I talked to the referee about a couple of things the Irish do very well that are on the line. If they get away with it things can become difficult – and they did get away with it.
“Being held in as the guard on the side of the breakdown is very frustrating and it takes a strong man not to take the law into your own hands and try to break free from the grip
“If you are matching Ireland on the gain line, dealing with their competitive nature with your own physicality, then all of those things can be eradicated – you will only get smatterings of it happening.
“However, if you are on the back foot it will be the most difficult afternoon you can have in international rugby.”
Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist’s World Cup dream has been left hanging by a thread after he was told he will have to sit out the remainder of the season.
The Edinburgh forward was named the Dark Blues’ captain ahead of the autumn internationals with Argentina, New Zealand and Tonga.
But before he could lead out his country, the 24-year-old suffered a broken forearm in October’s European Challenge Cup clash with Lyon.
The Gunners vice-captain has not played since after twice being forced to undergo surgery. Now Edinburgh have confirmed his campaign is over, leaving Gilchrist with little time to prove his form and fitness ahead of September’s World Cup kick-off.