Sitting in the stand watching her son run on to the field in an All Blacks jersey on Saturday was one of the proudest moments of Angela Dixon's life. But privately, she still wonders:
Did she let him start rugby too young?

Was it good for him, while growing up, to spend every weekend playing sport? Is it worth the risk he could be badly injured?

Watching her boy line up to sing the anthem and perform the haka, she had to surreptitiously wipe away a tear or two. But after kick-off she was too nervous to enjoy it, she said. Every time her son hit the ground she was on the edge of her seat.

"When he took a big tackle all I was thinking was is he getting up, is he getting up? I was saying to my husband, where is he, looking for his number.


"When I'm getting too worked up I have to take myself away to the ladies and take a minute to settle myself. It is nerve-racking. They're always your little boy, it doesn't matter if they're six foot four."

She said she watched his big games again on replay the next day, as she could only relax and enjoy it once she knew he would be okay. That constant fear he would get hurt was something that had plagued her since he started playing, at just four years old.

He played his first matches for Suburbs, his older brother, Jon's, team. She said Elliot was much smaller than the other children, who were mostly five or six, but he was determined to play.

"We used to call him radar, because even as a little boy he would see someone from across the field and jump on their back and take them down, it didn't matter how big they were. You'd see him lining them up."

Between the two boys, her weekends quickly filled up with sport. Summer or winter, both Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent yelling encouragement from the sidelines, with oranges or jet-plane lollies ready for the boys at half-time.

Then it was straight into the car to head to the next sport or competition. The hours after school were just as full on, as the boys met up at the park or in the backyard to play. She said she had lost track of the number of windows they broke, or clothes that came home grass-stained.

"I used to call the laundry my office, because I spent such a lot of time doing washing. And the cooking! They used to have competitions to see who could eat the most, they'd have eight Weet-bix in their plate."

All the boys wanted to do was play sport, but she worried sometimes about how much of their time it took up.

"They missed out on things like going fishing together. I remember saying to Chris, we can't get off this roundabout, can we?"

She said Elliot was a great runner and good at most sports, but rugby was always his passion: "We tried to get Elliot to play cricket, but it was too slow for him. He cried, he didn't like it at all."

She said he loved the physicality of rugby, even though he was a "spindly little fella" until he shot up at about 16. He played for St Bede's College, and made the New Zealand Schools squad which toured Australia in 2007.

Elliot Dixon charges into Ross Moriarty of Wales during the International Test match between the All Blacks and Wales at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / File
Elliot Dixon charges into Ross Moriarty of Wales during the International Test match between the All Blacks and Wales at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / File

She said she had mixed feelings about him pursuing a rugby career. "We often said you can't just play rugby, Elliot. You've got to do something, because in rugby you're only as good as your last game or your last injury."

She said none of his successes came easy. His dream was to play for Canterbury, but they told him although he was a good player they didn't have room for him on the squad, she said. He was offered a spot in Southland when he was 19, and he was torn over it.

"At 19 I didn't want to say see you later. But he said: 'Mum, what should I do?' And I said go for it."

She said she continued to give him advice, whether or not he appreciated it.
"I'll send him a text before the match saying have a good game, get out there, contest that lineout. He must think that's enough, mum, but he's good about it. He always says thanks, mum."

Before the test against Wales she met up with him and wanted to discuss tactics. "He said: 'It's just another game, mum, I don't want to talk about rugby'."

She said he had always been shy about public speaking, so watching him speaking in interviews before and after the match made her incredibly proud. She said he was very humble, and was careful not to let his success go to his head. She expected the birth of his son, Huxley, who is now one, to distract him from his rugby, but she said he was even more focused.

"Huxley was not the best sleeper, so between the lack of sleep and the stress I was expecting it to be tough. But he just gets out and plays harder."

And no matter how nervous it made her, she planned to be at as many of his matches as she could, cheering her son on.

"It's quite funny standing there talking to men who think you don't know what you're talking about. It's like really, I've watched more rugby matches than you've had hot dinners."