Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok hooker JAMES DALTON talks about his candid autobiography, venturing into EFC in the near future and why Ricky Gervais is a dream dinner guest.
Sport24 asked: What motivated you to spill your heart out in a book?
James Dalton: My whole life has been full of colourful events and I felt there was a story to tell. When I told my dad I would be doing a book, I will never forget he paused and was quiet for a while and then said, “My boy, I just want to say you have had a colourful life.” The essence of it is telling my story. I never wrote the book to ask for forgiveness or to try exempt myself from accountability or responsibility but there was a lot of stuff publicised by the press which was one-sided. In the past, I never really spoke on the stuff. A good mate of mine always said to me, “Just keep quiet and if something happens let them write about it. It will die a death and tomorrow no one will even remember it.” I now felt it was time for me to position my side of the story without making excuses.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Jacques Nienaber’s appointment?
James Dalton: Going from fitness coach to Springbok head coach is debatable but we all know that Rassie Erasmus is still going to be the puppet master. Jacques has been with Rassie for a long time and they have shared a lot of success. What is good in my view is that Jacques brings consistency and he will continue the trends Rassie set. You don’t want to choose a coach from outside the system who brings his own personal ways and starts unbundling everything. We need consistency not a new structure. I have the strong belief that if we keep what we have in place and carry on building, we could probably win back-to-back World Cups. Deon Davids and Daan Human are both competent but I’m not convinced by their appointments. In terms of Human, I wouldn’t say he has the necessary legacy as a Springbok to coach the world champions' scrum. At national level, you have to inspire rather than coach. From my viewpoint, you need icons that players can look up to.
Sport24 asked: Which side has impressed you in the infancy of Super Rugby?
James Dalton: It’s early days and the season is a marathon not a sprint. However, if you look at the Stormers, everyone was hoping for that performance and they were right on the money. The injury to Siya Kolisi, who is Stormers and SA Rugby personified, is a big loss coupled with the absence of Bongi Mbonambi. For all intents and purposes, Mbonambi has been the best hooker in South Africa but this is a new year and everyone starts on equal footing. He’s picked up an injury which will unfortunately set him back. Injuries always define a season and how they manage those injuries with the replacement players, keep the momentum and positivity around the camp and the level of play will be telling. I believe the Stormers will win the South African conference owing to the balance of their team. It’s a well-balanced side and since last year the players have gone to another level. It shows how important it is that the national team does well because it elevates your domestic players. Moreover, the Stormers have suffered the least amount of player losses and they have retained the core of their squad the last couple of years which equates to much more consistency than other teams. Over and above consistency and minimal changes, John Dobson brings another dimension to the team. He is a people person and he has certainly been able to elevate the players to that next level. So far there are only positives associated with the Stormers but only time will tell.
Sport24 asked: Do you see South Africa’s Super Rugby fortunes changing?
James Dalton: I know there was a period when the Bulls were quite dominant in the competition (between 2007 and 2010) but, by and large, South African teams have always really struggled in Super Rugby. However, maybe the tide has turned with us winning the World Cup as convincingly as we did. Perhaps we have broken the mental barrier of playing the New Zealand teams. Granted it was a very poor Hurricanes team but the Stormers totally dismantled them. For argument’s sake, All Black TJ Perenara’s performance was so pathetic he looked like a bench player. For South Africa to be successful, we need to start developing consistency across all our platforms. That is what we have lacked for such a long period of time and that is where you can always refer back to New Zealand. They have top class teams in Super Rugby and when the All Blacks play 10 Test matches they generally win eight. I think the future of South African rugby is very bright. The negative is that we are losing plenty of players abroad but on the upside they always come back more skilful and experienced. The upcoming stars are also being afforded an opportunity to play in local domestic competitions so from that perspective maybe it’ll be a stronger feeder system for our national team.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the Stormers crying foul against the Hurricanes?
James Dalton: No coach wants to see his players hurt in a dubious way or under a dark cloud. (The match was blighted by several off-the-ball niggles and Dobson made it clear that he was upset by the tactics employed by the New Zealanders). The Hurricanes coach has since hit back and I feel that we mustn’t become a bunch of crybabies. Now that we are world champions, we mustn’t walk around and think that we are entitled. We must keep earning our respect. But one big factor which I believe is going to change the game and have a massive impact on results is the high tackle interpretation. World Rugby is trying to improve the tackle engagement and aiming for the belt area and then hopefully ending chest high. They want to eliminate the upright tackle which is becoming significant.
Sport24 asked: You played 43 Test matches. Did you retire with any regrets?
James Dalton: I have massive regrets because I believe I could have played 100 Tests for South Africa. I think I retired way too early but I suppose at the time that is where my head was at. I felt as though I had outgrown my environment and there was a way younger generation. When I made my comeback I was on the losing side quite often, having been so successful beforehand. It was hard to handle and I had to deal with a different generation who didn’t think like the older guys. They were lying in their beds playing video games and eating McDonalds and then come Monday they couldn’t train. The reality is that everything changes in life and if you can’t fit into an environment then remove yourself because otherwise you land up having a negative effect in terms of the bigger picture. In some ways, the younger generation of players, known as the millennials, are less disciplined and more entitled. You can only make an informed assessment when you live in that era but I believe that the younger generation have less ability to engage with people and problem-solve.
Sport24 asked: What is the motivation behind partaking in EFC Africa?
James Dalton: I want to build on my enhanced reputation and legacy and maybe enjoy another couple of years of training and competition. (Dalton, who has a history in boxing and boasts a Jiu Jitsu purple belt, even went as far as to call out former England loose forward James Haskell after he too recently confirmed he was entering the world of MMA). We have put it out there to Haskell but first I have to go for an MRI on my left shoulder. It looks like there may be a tear and I possibly have to have an operation… I want to roll the dice. I don’t think because I was a rugby player I can go and be a competent MMA fighter. Instead I have a gravitas where I appeal to people and EFC Africa sees some value in me and, while it’s there, I’m going to make the most of it. I like the idea of getting my body into shape, challenging myself and most of all having fun. I don’t want to look back when I’m old and say, “Fuck it, I had an opportunity to do something else (like MMA fighting) and I never did.”
Sport24 asked: Who would you invite as dream dinner guests and why?
James Dalton: I would love to spend an evening with Floyd Mayweather. He is a really inspirational athlete. He is one-of-a-kind and the type of athlete that comes around very seldom in people’s lives. Tiger Woods is another. Everybody said he would never win another major and, when he did, he stuck it in people’s faces. You could learn a lot from the mental toughness of the man. Conor McGregor is a rock star and he is Mr UFC at the moment. His persona, personality and performances underline the fact that he is the total package. Either you love him or you hate him but even with that Irish accent he has so much charisma. A lot of times the reality is that the public don’t like guys who have big mouths but are still successful. People like to see a big mouth fall flat because it’s just how we as humans are wired. We generally always want to see the worst in others. From an entertainment perspective, I would love to spend time with Ricky Gervais. I really enjoy the fact that he always has a proper go and his opinions are unedited. He has no filter and I absolutely love that!
Bullet Proof: The James Dalton Story, written by Mark Keohane, is available for purchase online and at all leading book stores. The page-turner offers a refreshing account and charts ‘friendships, foes, murders, assassinations, the inglorious underworld and the glorious world of Bok rugby.’
James Dalton and Grant Shub