Israel Dagg is a World Cup winner with a licence to thrill from full-back or wing, here he talks about his journey in rugby...
Part of New Zealand’s World Cup-winning team of 2011 but omitted for the 2015 tournament, Israel Dagg last year rediscovered his best form and won his 50th Test cap.
The All Black notched his 100th Super Rugby cap at the start of this year’s competition and here he talks about Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, the upcoming Lions tour and his glittering rugby journey that began on New Zealand’s North Island…
I started playing at hooker but I never hit rucks, so nothing’s changed! I was a bit of a late bloomer so didn’t start playing rugby until I was eight or nine. That was around Hawke’s Bay. I played hooker, lock, No 8, centre and then wing and full-back. I was 12 when I got to wing and I knew that was where I wanted to be. I felt right at home having the space to run hard.
I probably got my speed from running away from my brothers! I’ve got older brothers and we’d play backyard cricket and rugby growing up. We didn’t need a PlayStation – we’d do that all day.
My rugby heroes were Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu. Growing up watching them play was awesome – I’d run around the yard thinking I was them, trying to repeat things that they had done. I’d call myself Cullen when I made a break in the backyard. I never bowled anyone over so I wasn’t Lomu!
I got a contract from Hawke’s Bay when I was in high school. I played cricket all the way through school, too, but getting that contract made up my mind to focus on rugby. I got a bit of stick because it meant I missed a few classes or got to school late because I had early-morning training, but everyone was very supportive. The boys loved coming down to games.
I was pretty nervous, going from playing against teenagers at school to full-grown men. But it was very exciting and everything fell into place from there.
The best advice is to follow your instincts. Your instinct is right 99% of the time, and even if it’s not just go at it 100%. And have fun. That’s when you play your best.
My whole family was there for my All Blacks debut. I was nervous but also excited to be playing Ireland in New Plymouth (in 2010). Joe Rokocoko was my room-mate that week – I caught up with him in Paris when we were there last November – and I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking, ‘Am I good enough to play at this level?’
Everything fell into place in 2011. I had an injury – I’d torn my quad off my hip – so I didn’t think I’d get to play at the World Cup, but my body responded well.
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I can’t think of anything better than playing in a World Cup in front of home fans and my family. Those eight weeks in New Zealand were the best eight weeks of my life. It was fantastic to see how New Zealand embraced the tournament, the games and the people.
The 2015 World Cup wasn’t meant to be. I wasn’t playing well, I had a few injuries and when I did have opportunities to make the team I didn’t take them. Then I dislocated my shoulder playing for Hawke’s Bay and was out for six months.
Six months away from the game was the best thing that ever happened to me. It meant last year I was fresh and keen – I’d had time to get my mind and body right. When you go through year after year that’s the same, it can get repetitive, so I took a step back and got away. I went to America for a month with my wife, Daisy, and travelled around. Then when I got back to the Crusaders I did a lot of work with the physios to get my body right.
I’d lost my love for the game in 2015. I was worried about making mistakes, worried about letting people down – I was probably worrying too much. Last season was the most fun I’d had for a long time. I just enjoyed it and it was exciting – playing at home, travelling around the world to Paris, Rome, Chicago, Dublin. I’m very grateful.
I try to play golf every week. I’ve got a handicap of six. It’s good to
do things away from the game, so you can take a step away from the pressure and relax.
I also like to go salmon fishing. I’ve got a jetboat so we go out on that. My wife comes with me. She hasn’t caught a salmon yet but she cooks them. She makes a dry rub and steams it in the oven – it’s really nice. The biggest salmon I’ve caught was 16 or 17lb.
We had a baby boy, Arlo, in April. It’s very exciting – our first child. I’ve not thought about what I’ll do after rugby to be honest, but perhaps I’ll be a stay-at-home dad.
The Lions tour will be amazing. I remember last time, that’s when Dan Carter was discovered – he always reminds me about it! I was still at school then but remember watching the Lions and seeing the fans from the UK. They’ve over with a quality side and it’s a big challenge, but the boys are looking forward to it and hopefully I will get the opportunity to play them.
Scott Robertson is a hell of a character. I’d never been coached by him before he came to the Crusaders this year but I’d heard exciting things. He’s funny and if he wins a competition he likes to do breakdancing and stuff – he’s a good breakdancer. It’s exciting.
I love New Zealand. I’m a Kiwi boy. I’m signed up until the end of the year, so I’ll keep chipping away and see where I am. When your time’s up your time’s up, and I don’t know if my time is up yet…
This article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Rugby World