Friday, January 13, 2006
Rugby Personalities: Dallywaggles seeks the top again
"His presence in the back row is such that he makes New Zealanders, no slouches when it comes to quality among back-row forwards, pause for considerable thought, if not to tremble at the prospect of containing him."
By Gerald Davies, former Wales & Lions great
LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO has occupied the shining uplands of greatness for most of his career, overcoming each of the challenging peaks in turn at London Wasps, with England and with the Lions in 1997; occasionally threatened by the scale of what lay ahead, as in 1995, when his club was denuded of players after Rob Andrew persuaded several to follow him to Newcastle; but rarely, if ever, when fit, allowing the slippery slopes that fame and celebrity encourage, and needling ambition demands, to defeat him.
It is the phrase “when fit” that has scuppered Dallaglio and may provide the reason that, at 33 and after declaring his retirement from international rugby 18 months ago, he seeks to regain the high level that was his proud domain. He wants to play international rugby again.
Injuries at critical times with the Lions in 2001 and 2005 and the resultant frustrating failure to make an indelible imprint on those tours may force him to try to prove himself one more time. He may feel that his CV is incomplete and that to end his career on a note of disappointment, however much out of his control, is not the way to close a famous rugby chapter.
Returning home after suffering an injury in the first tour match with the Lions in 2005 is hardly the fulfilment of his dream. He would have to live in retirement with the ache of an unsatisfying conclusion rather than bask in the praise of a glorious exit. Such things matter to a champion.
However, returning from retirement is a path fraught not only with potholes that might hinder the return to previous form but with a chasm so wide that it could swallow whole a sportsman’s reputation and so deny them their place in the pantheon. Of a hesitant last performance, a cruel assessment is made; a kind of apology for not being what he once so dominantly was. It is a step too far.
While his name may betray other qualities of his Italian heritage, Lorenzo Bruno Nero Dallaglio embodies, even with some Welsh blood in his veins, thoroughly English virtues: square jaw, a firmly planted stride on Twickenham’s turf, muscular strength and sense of service, tremendous effort and stoic deliberation. His character and willpower have helped him to come to terms with the death of his sister, Francesca, on The Marchioness in 1989 and to recover in 1999 from a controversial drugs accusation. There is unalloyed steel in his resolve. He is, above all, an honest player, letting his talent and his strength, of body and soul, do his will.
His presence in the back row is such that he makes New Zealanders, no slouches when it comes to quality among back-row forwards, pause for considerable thought, if not to tremble at the prospect of containing him. Clearly, so strong is his desire to play international rugby that he cannot rest. For all the visible outward composure, there is no inner voice of calm, only a restless energy and sense of endeavour — an unrelieved need to subdue the demanding and deep-seated longing to cement his fame and to confirm his enormous talent. There should be no equivocation.
It is the eternal dilemma that confronts the sportsman — when to call it a day. In the usual way there is the sin of commission and the sin of omission, while in between there is the fine line of distinction; the sense of timing to do the right thing. There is the matter of going on too long.
The sportsman’s muscles stiffen in time, the spirit may no longer be moved to eloquent display of his talents. His experience tells him that he has been here before, when he recognises repetition setting in and complacency taking over. When the fun stops, it is time to depart. And for sure, club rugby, however taxing, is not of the same strain as the international game.
And there is the equal dilemma of departing the scene too early, unaware that there is more to come, as the evening, like the sportsman’s career, progresses into a glowing maturity.
In each case, there is the flaw that allows for regret in the capricious moment before the chill of midnight, when the demons are ready to make their visit: of recognising the frustration of thwarted ambition in not having fulfilled enough the early promise or the miscalculation in attempting too much for too long and of the ultimate betrayal of the hard-won reputation, so easy to evaporate.
Only Dallaglio knows. If the choice is not natural, as it had become for Martin Johnson, and is hard to come by, then the sportsman must play the game out of his system and acknowledge finally that it is, indeed, over. We must hope that he makes the right decision and does not dilute our vision of him.
I'm with Heksie on this one
The far-off naked shots of the pasty poms are better than the close up mugshot of Dayglo's ugly mug.
Since when have ANY Kiwis 'trembled' at the prospect of playing against someone.
I'm sure Richie McCaw and Jerry Collins 'termbled' at the prospect of playing against him. What a crock.
What does your Riferphile friend reckon about a Dayglo comeback for England? Possible?