Israel Dagg, the All Black legend and World Cup winner, has recently announced his retirement due to a long standing knee injury. At thirty years old, this is a somewhat early retirement for the Crusaders full back and he will be sorely missed.

Since then, he has been very open about his struggles with rugby which have gravely affected his mental health.

“I was down, I hated rugby”.

Israel Dagg was one of the All Blacks leading players for a few seasons. If he wasn’t blighted with injuries, he may still be playing today. Moreover, injuries in professional rugby don’t only cause physical pain… They can also cause crippling mental pain, which is arguably much harder to deal.

Dagg has been open about his mental health struggles, which is uncommon for rugby players. He comments, “I was down, I hated rugby. 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 pussy’ and ‘you’re so useless’,”…

Having these graphic thoughts in your head will only cause you to shy away from your life and will start to affect your rugby playing career. Thankfully, Dagg identified that “nah I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”. He consciously identified that he should not keep his mental anguish to himself, which is one of the first steps for overcoming mental health problems.

“Everyone has their vulnerabilities and moments.”.

Whilst playing for Hawkes Bay, Dagg developed a shoulder injury and then “cried to his best mates”. The combination of realising he should not be feeling like this and letting out his emotions, allowed Dagg to flourish on the pitch once again. For example, in 2016 his new found form was rewarded with a recall to the All Blacks team.

In the latter part of Israel Dagg’s interview, he states “As men, we don’t talk and we need to talk. You can’t bottle it up and do everything on your own. It is too hard and it will weigh you down. So if there is one thing I’ve learned it is just to talk to people. It’s okay to cry.”

This snippet of his interview is a powerful statement to rugby players and men all over the world. Dagg has comfortably accepted that “its okay to cry” and other men around the world should be at peace with this too. Furthermore, In New Zealand there has been an argument that more needs to be done with young men and their mental health woes.

“In New Zealand, we are stubborn and strong. ‘We’ll be right’ “.

In some New Zealand culture there is too much “toxic masculinity”. This is where men feel like they have to be strong and thus don’t talk about their feelings because thats not what men do. Consequentially, 668 people committed suicided In New Zealand (2017) which is amongst some of the highest rates in the world. When reading this statistic, it was utterly shocking… Yet again, this comes down too many New Zealand men not talking about their mental pains.

Hopefully with Israel Dagg being open about his struggles and talking about his feelings, other rugby players and men will start to open up about their feelings.


Written by Sam Powell