Rugby is the poorer for the retirement of Israel Dagg.

In a professional world of sport, where many players keep themselves under tight control, he was an outlier, perky where others were solemn, daring where others were cautious. He had a spark in the way the late great John Clarke ascribed to Phil Leishman. "Looking at him you felt he knew some great, entertaining secret, that if you were very lucky he might let you in on."

At his best, which was at the World Cup in 2011, Dagg was stunning. It was a small miracle he was even there. The injuries that would eventually end his career were already starting.


Just four months before the opening game against Tonga he was on an operating table in Christchurch, his surgeon working on his right thigh, where the muscle had almost torn away from the bone as he smacked away a clearing kick in a Super Rugby game in Cape Town.

"We didn't expect him to make it back from the injury," Graham Henry said when he named Dagg for the '11 Cup. He not only made it back, but scored the first try of the tournament, and was a sensation at fullback right through to the final.

How well was he liked by All Black management? He and Cory Jane had a massive night in Takapuna in the week before the semi-final with Australia.

Photos on Facebook popped up showing our two finely tuned athletes with a beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. At Radio Sport, where I used to join Kent Johns for his Saturday sports show, Kent got an excited call from a former flatmate. "Johnsy, what a great night you missed. Guess who threw up on our sofa? Israel Dagg!"

After both Dagg and Jane performed brilliantly against the Wallabies I sent a text to All Black manager, Darren Shand, a man whose quiet demeanour conceals a keen sense of humour, wondering if, considering how well they'd played in the semifinal, he'd thought about organising a bar tab for the pair before the final with France. A text soon came back. "Only if the bar can provide Marlboro cigarettes as well."