England's James Haskell joins Otago Highlanders in Super 15

James Haskell
The 26-year-old Haskell will miss England's 2012 Six Nations campaign

England back-row James Haskell will play for the Otago Highlanders in the Super 15 next season.

Haskell, who played in the recent World Cup in New Zealand, was a surprise inclusion in the Highlanders squad when it was announced on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old will join the New Zealand side after a stint at Japan's Ricoh Black Rams and before returning to his former English club Wasps.

Haskell most recently played in Europe with French giants Stade Francais.

"I have always wanted to test myself in a new environment and in a new culture, both as player and as an individual," Haskell told the Times.

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

"The move to New Zealand and playing with 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."

All five New Zealand teams announced their squads for the 2012 Super 15 campaign on Wednesday.

Haskell is one of only five overseas internationals contracted to New Zealand teams: the Waikato Chiefs squad includes the Samoa World Cup players Kane Thompson and Mahonri Schwalger, and Tonga's Sona Taumalolo, while Samoa fly-half Tusi Pisi will play for the Wellington Hurricanes.

Head coach Jamie Joseph believes Haskell brings international experience and versatility to the Highlanders mix.

"Those are compelling reasons to select him," he said. "He's a good footy player and also a bit of a character.

"He's played in France, he's in Japan, money wasn't an issue, so he's coming down here to play rugby. He wants to come down and have a go.

"He gives us tremendous flexibility on our bench. He can play in all three loose forward positions. We have that ability now not to have to play guys week in and week out, as we had to do last season."

Haskell's overseas adventures mean he will not be available to play for England in next season's Six Nations - the Super 15 seasonexternal-link runs from February until August.

The Highlanders' opening match is at the Chiefs in Hamilton on 25 February, the same day as England host Wales in the Six Nations.

However, Haskell has already committed himself to returning to his old club Wasps, where he spent seven years before leaving for France, for the 2012-13 season.

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