WELLINGTON – All Blacks 2011 World Cup-winner Israel Dagg opened up on Tuesday about the mental health battles that nearly drove him out of the game.
The 30-year-old outside back, who announced his retirement last week due to a chronic knee injury, said he descended into a mental trough after missing out on New Zealand selection for the 2015 World Cup and suffering a serious injury soon after.
“I was down, I hated rugby,” he told the All Blacks podcast on Tuesday as he revealed how he suffered an emotional rollercoaster ride.
“I was walking down the street and I would look at people and think to myself 'he's looking at me going 'you're a pu**y' and 'you're so useless'. I was like, 'nah I shouldn't be feeling like this'.”
The 66-Test Dagg, renowned for his ability under the high ball and his deceptive sidestep, said he was ready to walk away from the game following the disappointment of 2015.
But when later recovering from a dislocated shoulder he found solace in friends and family who helped him rediscover his love of the game.
View this post on Instagram
As a little kid growing up in Hawkes bay I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have travelled the road I have with Rugby. On a scholarship to lindisfarne college and thanks to my mum working two jobs I was able to show off some skills playing school rugby where I was spotted, then selected to play for @hbmagpies at 17. From there I had an incredible year playing @allblacks7s before being selected to start my super rugby career playing two years for @highlandersteam then the last 8 years with my brothers in the @crusadersrugbyteam. Amongst that. every little boys dream - running onto that field 66 times wearing the black jersey, representing my country with pride and honour for the @allblacks. Unfortunately my dream career has come to an end due to a increasingly painful and unfixable right knee, my rugby days are over. There is not enough space in this post to thank everyone I have met and who has influenced and helped me along this road but here are a few.... all my incredible coaches, trainers, managers, sponsors, especially @adidasnz providing me with all the gears and tools needed to play my game, my amazing agent @si_porter10 and @halosportnz , all the incredible friends I have met along the way, my fans that stuck with me even through the rough days and finally last but not least my family... my mum and dad who have been incredible support from day one, sisters and brothers, friends and my wife @daisydagg who was there from my school rugby days, right through to my last. Your love, support and guidance has meant the world to me. Arlo and Tilly I love you so so much and I can’t wait to watch you grow and support you through the good and the tough times (eh Tilly) haha .. if I have forgot someone then tough luck ha nah thanks again everyone I’m all good and super excited for the next chapter in my life 🙏🙏 love you all and peace ❤️ #AB1101 #CRU149
A post shared by Israel Jamahl Akuhata Dagg (@izzy_dagg) on
“Having that close support network to get through those times was crucial. As men we don't talk and we need to talk,” he revealed.
“You can't bottle it up and do everything on your own. It is too hard and it will weigh you down,” he said.
“If there is one thing I've learned it is just to talk to people. It's OK to cry.
“I've had moments when I've cried to my best mates and I've cried to my wife and there's some people out there that might think I'm a pussy and weak, but I don't care. People cry and need to share their emotions.”
After almost six months sidelined by injury, Dagg returned with a new-found passion for the game in 2016 and after a standout season for the Canterbury Crusaders, he regained his place in the All Blacks and enjoyed one of his best seasons with 10 tries in 12 Tests.
New Zealand Rugby's wellbeing manager Nathan Price applauded Dagg for speaking out, saying he had set “a really great example about how important and effective it can be to just reach out and ask for help”.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)